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The Law Society from Hell : Scots face decade of closed shop, low quality & high cost crooked lawyers as solicitors demand access to justice monopoly goes on

law-in-scotlandAs predicted, Law Society of Scotland’s ‘one profession’ conference result : More client rip-offs on the way. ANOTHER DECADE OF LEGAL RIP-OFFS via poor regulation, consistently poor quality legal services, the worst levels of access to justice in the entire UK & the lowest possible form of consumer protection when things go wrong between clients & solicitors, is on the way for unsuspecting & unwary consumers of legal services in Scotland, according to the Law Society of Scotland ‘new strategy’ for the next decade up to 2020, published earlier this week as a result of the society’s annual conference : “Law in Scotland- One Profession”.

According to the Law Society’s Press Release following its annual conference, the society stated its new strategic aim as ‘to lead and support a successful and respected Scottish legal profession’ in its ‘Towards 2020’ strategy document and has set out five principal objectives against which it will assess and measure its performance over the coming years.

The latest ‘key objectives’ announced, which remain unachievable even after SIXTY YEARS of the Law Society of Scotland’s existence, are :

Excellent solicitor professionalism and reputation (Ignoring huge levels of fraud & theft involving clients funds, legal aid fraud, involvement in organised crime, tax fraud, criminality, etc is on the rise within the profession)

Law Society of Scotland members are trusted advisers of choice (Trust a member of the Law Society of Scotland, kiss goodbye to your life as you knew it before legal difficulties, home repossession, faltering finances, personal bankruptcy & family break up all set in as a result of clients misplaced trust)

Law Society of Scotland members are economically active and sustainable (Economically active enough to inflate fee notes & play clients along for years, charging for work which in most cases never leads to a solution to the client’s legal problems)

The Law Society of Scotland is the professional body and regulator of choice (Another decade of corrupt regulation of complaints against crooked lawyers where solicitors cover up for their colleagues)

The Law Society of Scotland is a high performing organisation (High performing for solicitors, non performing for clients)

The 4m Crooked Lawyer - Daily Record 1991The Law Society of Scotland’s vision for next 10 years – we should expect more multi-million pound crooked lawyers. The now familiar annual claims from the Law Society of Scotland cut little truth in terms of reality, as the levels of frauds committed by crooked lawyers against their clients are significantly on the rise in Scotland, doubtless due to the recession & general downturn in business which has brought about many new creative ways by law firms to rip off clients, including use of Scotland’s Sheriff Courts to pursue clients for alleged fees due for non existent work on court cases which commonly never see a court room or a legal remedy.

Cameron RitchieLaw Society President Cameron Ritchie. Commenting on the Law Society’s desire to remain in charge of exactly who in Scotland it decides should have access to justice, the Society’s current president, Cameron Ritchie, said: “The pace of change for the legal profession, like others, has been tremendous in recent years and of course there has been the additional challenge of the economic downturn. It’s vital for any successful organisation to take time to step back from the day to day operations and look at where we are headed. We must plan what our key priorities should be and how we can best anticipate future opportunities and challenges in order to properly support the profession, which in turn helps our members better serve their own clients, now and into the future.”

The Law Society further stated that a review of its work was initiated by its Council and the final strategy, approved by Council members last month, has had input from groups of members, faculties and firms, as well as senior management and staff at the Society. The Council has considered economic, social and political change which is likely to impact the legal sector and the opportunities these change could bring in addition to any challenges for members.

The statement did not make any mention the Council of the Law Society of Scotland was branded “fundamentally dishonest at its core” by a now former Council Member, John McGovern who, it is claimed “has been critical of the Society’s policy on ABS, and has campaigned against the dual functions of representation and regulation being vested in the Society, amongst other issues.”.

Law Society President Cameron Ritchie again : “The outlook for the next few years remains challenging and we know that solicitors will continue to feel the effects of a tough economic climate. Social change will also impact on our members as consumers of legal services become increasingly well informed and will seek the best and most cost effective services available to them. This makes reputation and quality assurance for solicitors and their firms even more important. As a professional body, it will be our role to promote a deeper understanding of the solicitor brand to the public.

Mr Ritchie said the Law Society was now looking to bring in more female solicitors into the profession. he continued : “The legal sector itself is changing and we are seeing a younger profession with the gender balance swinging towards females. There are also pressures on some specific areas of legal practice, such as the criminal bar, and a growing number of ’employed status’ solicitors.”

Fergus Ewing Scottish ParliamentFergus Ewing, Communities Minister in 2010 was made a laughing stock after Law Society forced him to announce major pro-lawyer changes to a wider-consumer-choice-in-legal-services law. The Law Society also praised the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010, (a much watered down out version of the UK Legal Services Act 2007) which took the SNP Scottish Government three years longer than Westminster MPs to consider, and was only passed after the Law Society heavily amended its intentions, at one point turning Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing into a shrivelled-up laughing stock after Mr Ewing was forced by the Law Society to withdraw major parts of the reforming legislation which had intended to put consumers in charge of their own access to justice although not to the same degree as consumers in England & Wales enjoy. Such were the amendments ordered by the Law Society to the Scottish Government’s legal services bill, the latest timetable from the Scottish Government has indicated that alternative business structures are unlikely to become a reality until at least summer 2012.

An earlier article reporting on how the Legal Services (Scotland) Act was passed, is here : ‘Choice’ but not as we know it : Legal Services Bill passed, Scots access to justice remains mostly under Law Society’s control and the chequered history of the Legal Services Bill at the Scottish Parliament can be read here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland, giving consumers no access to justice.

More examples of how the then Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing danced to the tune of the Law Society of Scotland & its members, can be found HERE, HERE, & HERE.

Law Society President Cameron Ritchie added: “In addition to this we also have to be aware of the political context in which we work and the changes coming down the track which will affect the profession. Given the cross party support for the Scotland bill we can predict further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament and we know there is strong political will to see reforms proposed by Lord Gill introduced. We await the outcomes of the ongoing reviews by Lord Carloway and Lord McCluskey. Within such a period of change, we want everyone, whether they are a solicitor or member of the public, to be able to understand our organisation’s purpose and vision for the next five to 10 years.”

The Scots public do not need to wait to understand the Law Society of Scotland’s purpose & vision for the next ten years, as the last two decades of record levels of client fraud & corruption within the Scottish legal profession, held together by the Law Society and its persistent crop of leaders who ensure the legal profession’s vested interests come before consumers, serve as warning from the past the same will continue until fully independent regulation of legal services is a reality, and anti-consumer closed shop institutions such as the Law Society of Scotland are consigned to the dustbin if history.

 

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The Crooked & The Crooked : Scottish solicitors claim banks & financial services ‘are historically too crooked’ to own Scots law firms

slasBanks are too crooked to own law firms, FSA is rubbish at regulation, say Scottish Law Agents Society. BIZARRE CLAIMS that High Street Banks and other ‘Financial Service Providers’ are TOO CROOKED to hold majority ownership in equally crooked Scottish law firms have emerged today in a response from the Scottish Law Agents Society to a Scottish Government consultation on proposed changes to the ownership of law firms as laid down in the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010, passed last year by the Scottish Parliament only after a raft of changes & amendments had been ordered by the Law Society to water down the Scottish Government’s initial proposals to expand Scotland’s closed shop legal industry.

The Scottish Government consultation on which categories of regulated professionals other than solicitors should qualify to meet the 51% ownership requirement in the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 has caused fierce bickering within the Scottish legal profession over their decades old control of Scotland notorious closed shop solicitor dominated legal profession where members of the public who require access to justice or the courts are forced to go solicitors who are members of the Law Society of Scotland.

Today, amid the fears of lawyers the financial industry will come into Scotland’s legal profession and scoop up law firms, or even open their own and bring much needed competition into the legal services marketplace where solicitors have got used to charging sky high fees for doing very little work on behalf of their clients, the Scottish Law Agents Society issued a series of damning accusations against the financial services sector, essentially claiming financial services providers are historically too corrupt to own a majority stake in a Scottish law firm.

In a response to the Scottish Government consultation, the Scottish Law Agents Society claimed : “The financial services industry over the last 30 years does not inspire confidence in the professional standards in the industry. There have been widespread scandals with the mis-selling of endowment policies, personal pension plans, home income plans, precipice bonds and other structured investment products. Currently there is a further scandal with the mis-selling of payment protection insurance.”

The same is true of the legal profession in Scotland. Solicitors have spent decades mis-selling legal services to clients who end up paying extortionate fees for useless and often unsuccessful litigation.

The response from SLAS continued : “The key to each of these scandals is the selling of the products. Notwithstanding the veneer of professionalism the old adage that financial products are sold and not bought remains true. The whole culture of financial services remains one of sales rather than the provision of professional services where the professional puts the interests of the client ahead of his own interests. The regulatory scheme which has applied since the Financial Services Act 1986 has done little to curb this culture.”

While it is true regulation may well have done little to curb bad practice in the financial services sector, it is equally true regulation in the legal services sector, provided in Scotland by the Law Society of Scotland, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal & last but not least, the Faculty of Advocates, has collectively done little or nothing to curb the incessant corruption, client rip offs, negligence, dishonesty and bad service which continues to plague Scotland’s legal services sector today.

The statement from SLAS also attacked the Financial Services Authority, claiming : “The present regulator of financial services is the FSA and, despite its wide ranging powers, the provisions of the Legal Services (S) Act 2010 with tests of fit to own and fit to manage are not sufficiently robust to allow us to have confidence that the public would be protected from a sales culture approach which could lead to the mis-selling of legal services.”

It should be noted the response from the Scottish Law Agents Society fail to contain any references to many Scots law firms who are themselves caught up in similar scandals of mis-selling of mortgages & financial products and even legal services to clients who are then forced to lodge complaints with the Law Society of Scotland and Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Unsurprisingly the Law Society & SLCC are reported to be ignoring such complaints.

While SLAS went onto cover themselves by stating : “It would degrade significantly the intended benefits of the Act and indeed the rationale for liberalising the provision of legal services if regulated professions were restricted only to those of Solicitor and Accountant”. Although it would require approved regulators to evolve and enforce robust “fitness for involvement” tests, it would be inconsistent with the purpose of the Act to deny the opportunity to participate in the provision of legal services to other regulated professionals.” the response indicated they would be happy to form “associations between solicitors and surveyors or indeed any regulated profession as defined in Article 3 of European Directive 2005/36 with one exception“, that exception being the Financial Services Industry.

I am not surprised solicitors are happy to form associations with the likes of surveyors.

Law firms forming associations with surveyors is something I’ve seen first hand in Edinburgh and particularly in the Scottish Borders, usually ending up in a very corrupt arrangement where surveyors dish out fraudulent valuations to house buyers or sellers or solicitors on behalf of executry estates of deceased clients, resulting in one particular case I remember where a single solicitor ended up owning twelve properties, some purchased through middle men after it took years to sell particular properties of deceased clients which ended up being sold in some cases for a quarter of their value during the property value boom between 2000 – 2008.

The response from the Scottish Law Agents Society also came down hard on will writers & confirmation agents, stating : “Will Writers and Confirmation Agents are not professionals. At present they require no proper education and training. The qualifications needed to do that work properly requires the same training that solicitors receive. A full training in and understanding of the law on all aspects of property law, succession, taxation etc, are required to offer proper advice. It is obvious that no one should offer services in Will writing and Confirmation without current practising solicitors trained in that area.”

SLAS continued : “Furthermore we note that there are no adequate mechanisms for consumer complaints to be made and investigated free of cost to the consumer and no evidence of adequate professional standards or disciplinary procedures. There is evidence of widespread consumer detriment in the quality of services provided and in the marketing practices of will writers.”

Clearly standards must be kept, but with the ever increasing amount of fraud by solicitors against executries & wills in Scotland, reaching into the tens of millions of pounds each year or by some estimates much more, I hardly think trusting regulation of the legal services market to the likes of the Law Society of Scotland and the remains of the current self-regulation of solicitors gang, including the SLCC, will do anything to improve regulation, increase public confidence or increase consumer protection in Scotland’s best-to-be-avoided legal services marketplace, even after terms of the much-watered-down Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 takes hold.

The Scottish Government were asked to comment on the SLAS response and their accusations against the Financial sector. A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “The Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 will modernise the Scottish legal profession, and will offer firms of every size the flexibility to adopt a business model that works for them and their clients. It will give Scottish firms greater opportunities, within a robust regulatory system, to expand and compete effectively, both within and outwith Scotland.”

“The consultation in question sought views on those who should be permitted to own a majority or controlling share in the new licensed legal services providers. All responses will be analysed and considered along with other evidence before a decision is taken. A report on the consultation will be prepared in due course, and will be available on the Scottish Government website.”

We are therefore left to ask ourselves as consumers of legal services, are banks & financial services providers too crooked to own outright a law firm, or is it just these law firms are themselves too crooked to want anyone else to own them or compete in their markets ?

Judge for yourselves on the evidence aplenty already reported on Diary of Injustice, although you may be forgiven for coming to the conclusion neither of the professions can really be trusted with our financial or our legal & justice needs.

 

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‘Choice’ but not as we know it : Legal Services Bill passed, Scots access to justice remains mostly under Law Society’s control

Debating chamberScottish Parliament passed Legal Services Bill, doing no particular favours for consumers. THE Legal Services Bill was finally passed by MSPs at the Scottish Parliament late yesterday afternoon after what can only be described as a round of ‘buy one amendment get one free’ set of deals between the Scottish Government & Law Society of Scotland ensuring consumer choice & competition in Scotland’s legal services marketplace will for the most part, remain out of reach of Scots consumers.

The Law Society are happy as are most of the big law firms in Scotland who supported the bill, happy their fiefdom of the Scottish legal services market has been preserved once again, and ‘meddling outsiders’ kept out of Scotland’s multi billion pound racket legal business. As for the Consumer bodies, well, most of them are just having to put a brave face on things and say they ‘welcome’ the bill which we all know is a mere shadow of England’s soon to come into force Clementi proposals and the Which? supercomplaint which began the whole Legal Services Bill process in Scotland.

Fergus Ewing Scottish ParliamentCommunity Safety Minister Fergus Ewing, said the bill would deliver benefits to lawyers & clients, after being forced by the Law Society to amend access to justice plans. The Scottish Government’s Minister for Community Safety Fergus Ewing commenting on the passage of the bill through the Scottish Parliament said: “The passage of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill today is good news for our businesses and consumers. At the heart of this Bill is a desire to modernise the profession. It presents greater opportunities, in a regulated framework, for firms of all sizes to be more competitive and to devise a business model which suits them and their clients.”

He ended by saying : “The Bill will deliver clear benefits for the legal profession and consumers.”

The Law Society’s media release reflected the profession’s welcome relief their cash registers will still be ringing up huge charges & fees to clients for some of the western world’s worst quality legal services. The Law Society were quick to gloat their amendments, forced on the weak SNP minority controlled Scottish Executive “meant the ‘Tesco law’ option, which would have allowed 100% of non-solicitor ownership of a law firm, was ruled out for Scotland.”

The Law Society release went onto triumphantly announce : “The legislation will for the first time allow non-solicitors to set up in partnership with solicitors to provide legal services in Scotland. The Bill, as passed, will mean solicitors and other regulated professionals must still have a majority share of at least 51% in any new legal services business, with the remaining 49% open to other external investors.”

jamie_millarJamie Millar, president of the Law Society whose own law firm Lindsays is linked to a dishonest firm of Borders solicitors, said: “I am pleased that MSPs have voted to approve this legislation. These changes will broaden access to legal services and allow the Scottish legal profession to remain competitive against a challenging economic backdrop and in an increasingly international, competitive market. At the same time, the Bill continues to protect the principles and core values that underpin the Scottish legal profession.”

He continued : “There has been much debate, both within and outwith the legal profession, on this Bill and its provisions to allow solicitors to enter into practice with non-solicitors. However, it is now important to move forward and ensure these changes work in practice within the strongest possible regulatory framework. The Society intends to work with government to enhance the provision of legal services and access to justice for people in Scotland.”

One client who has been involved in a bitter 5 year battle with the Law Society and has faced problems in securing legal representation after several law firms dumped him over a case involving a complaint regarding his original solicitor’s embezzlement of over £60,000 from the sale of land scoffed at Mr Millar’s statement.

He said “What principles and core values of the legal profession is Mr Millar talking about ? I know of one solicitor who is a cocaine user, another who is a convicted paedophile, another who was charged with raping & assaulting his own wife, and another who has defrauded over 15 clients of several million pounds yet each of these crooks are still practising law in Scotland.”

He continued : “Mr Millar and his colleagues are talking a lot of rubbish when they talk about values of the legal profession and access to justice. There are no values and there is no access to justice. People should wake up to realise their solicitors and those in charge of regulating them are not be as clean as they claim to be.”

Consumer Focus Scotland logoConsumer Focus Scotland’s Director, Marieke Dwarshuis commented in a statement on the Legal Services Bill vote, saying : “We are delighted that Parliament has voted in favour of widening choice and protection for users of legal services and increasing access to justice. We have long argued that these changes are in the interest of consumers and are pleased that today’s vote will pave the way for the development of a legal services market which better meets the needs of the public.”

Ms Dwarshuis continued : “We recognise that there are many who remain sceptical about the benefits the Bill will bring about, but are confident that in time, most will come to accept that the legislation will be effective for both users of legal services and the legal profession.”

Which logoWhich? also ‘welcomed’ the Legal Services Bill. A spokesperson for Which?, whose supercomplaint began the Legal Services Bill’s peculiarly Scottish journey, in comparison to the much easier and stronger pro-consumer friendly Legal Services Act (2007) for England & Wales, said : “We are delighted to welcome the Bill which will improve legal services for the public in Scotland.”

Doubtless however, some at Which? must be feeling a touch put out over the way the Law Society of Scotland so easily butchered their proposals for free market competition in legal services, as what was passed yesterday in the Scottish Parliament clearly puts Scots consumers on a less choice, less protected, lower standard of service footing than consumers in England & Wales.

The Office of Fair Trading, who issued a report calling for changes to Scotland’s closed shop legal services market has issued no press release or comment.

I could easily write something along the lines of … I find it hard to believe the Law Society were able to amend the bill, bully the Scottish Government to introduce amendments, call in msps for ‘personal briefings’, suggesting they follow the profession’s line to “avoid trouble further down the line”, ensure consumers or anyone with an actual experience of how legal services are provided were not allowed to testify in public to the Justice Committee … but there wouldn’t be much point, as what some might find hard to believe, happened, and I covered it as the Legal Services Bill progressed through Holyrood, here : Legal Services Bill – How Scotland’s legal profession avoided giving consumers wider access to justice

In my opinion, the whole debate on the Legal Services Bill can be summed up in one short television appearance between Mike Dailly & former Law Society President Ian Smart. It really was nothing more than a battle for market share and power between factions of the legal profession … nothing really to do with consumers at all. You can watch the video of Ian Smart & Mike Dailly slogging it out on live television here : Law Society President Ian Smart v Govan Centre’s Mike Dailly on Legal Services Bill reforms. There would have also been a good video clip of Fergus Ewing caving into solicitors during a Law Society meeting, however the Law Society pulled the clip from their own website for reasons unknown – or perhaps so the public couldn’t see how easy it is for the legal profession to influence an elected politician.

Video coverage of key points of testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Justice Committee by the legal profession and consumer groups, can be viewed in my earlier reports or at InjusticeTV & LawyerTV

I’d be happy if someone could prove me wrong – quote me an example if you can .. however the odds are stacked against consumer rights taking precedence over the legal profession in Scotland and every single piece of legislation, order or amendment passed by the Scottish Parliament concerning legal services or regulation of our country’s legal system since the Scottish Parliament came into existence in 1997 leaves the consumer interest far behind that of the legal profession – even the Legal profession & Legal aid Scotland Act 2007, passed in a similar blaze of glory, gory & Law Society sponsored resistance at Holyrood, which as we all now know has ended up a brutalised, watered down, now almost useless piece of legislation in terms of consumer protection from Scotland’s historically poor quality legal services market.

If anything can be learned from the way the Scottish Parliament handled the Legal Services Bill I’d say its this – collectively, msps in the Scottish Parliament cannot be trusted to pass a piece of legislation involving the legal system which puts the rights of ordinary members of the public over & above the interests of the legal profession. Its as simple as that. There is no other conclusion someone outside the Scots legal system’s bubble can reach on the available evidence.

It is with some irony that on the same day England & Wales placed the consumers interests first, moving to fully independent regulation of their legal services market, Scotland took a backward step which will see the Law Society of Scotland ultimately appointed by the current SNP controlled Scottish Executive as an “approved regulator” to wipe the floor with consumer complaints against legal services once again.

On this note, consumers in Scotland who actually value what they have left in their lives, what they have worked for, what they own, what assets they have, might wish to consider using legal services in England if at all possible because at least consumers might have better protection from independent regulation in the form of the new Legal Ombudsman for England & Wales, which at least so far, appears to be a world of difference from any Scottish solution born from the Law Society of Scotland’s grip over Scots legal reform …

 

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Scottish Parliament urged by Consumer bodies ‘to put public interest first’ in Legal Services Bill vote & reject Law Society ‘anti-consumer-choice’ amendments

Debating chamberHolyrood will debate & vote on the Legal Services Bill on Wednesday 6th October 2010. CONSUMER ORGANISATIONS in Scotland & across the UK have today urged the Scottish Parliament’s MSPs to widen choice for users of legal services by passing the Legal Services Bill, and to reject amendments mostly demanded by the Law Society of Scotland & the legal profession’s current roll of vested interests that would change the current ownership provisions and fundamentally dilute the legislation’s potential impact on the legal services market, the aims of which are to expand Scots consumers access to justice & quality legal services as is being implemented in England & Wales through equivalent UK legislation.

As I reported earlier today, the Legal Services Bill originates from proposals originally put forward by UK consumer organisation Which? and the Office of Fair Trading’s subsequent recommendations to break open the monopolistic Scottish legal services market which has long been dominated by solicitors & advocates. The Law Society of Scotland has continually demanded changes to the legislation which would hand control of the legal services market back to the Society as an ‘approved regulator’, which I reported on earlier, HERE

Consumer Focus Scotland logoConsumer Focus Scotland urges MSPs to pass the Legal Services Bill and reject amendments from ‘vested interests’. Speaking in advance of Wednesday’s Scottish Parliament debate on the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill at Stage 3, Marieke Dwarshuis, Director of Consumer Focus Scotland, said: “Throughout the Parliament’s consideration of this Bill, the arguments in favour of widening choice and protection for users of legal services and increasing access to justice have often been overshadowed by the interests of the legal profession.

Mr Dwarshuis continued : “We are confident that the alternative business structures the Bill will permit legal firms to pursue will support the development of a more open, innovative and competitive legal services market in Scotland, which better meets the needs of those using legal services. The Bill will also increase access to justice, by allowing advice agencies to employ solicitors directly, and will protect consumers who use currently unregulated will writing services.

Mr Dwarshuis concluded urging MSPs to pass the bill, saying : “For these reasons we are urging MSPs to widen choice for users of legal services by passing the Bill, and to reject amendments that would change the current ownership provisions and fundamentally dilute the legislation’s potential impact on the legal services market.”

Which logoWhich? began the road to legal services reform in Scotland with their supercomplaint to the OFT over Law Society monopoly of the Scots closed shop legal services market. Consumer group Which? who were responsible for the supercomplaint to the Office of Fair Trading which began the long process to overhaul competition in the Scottish legal services marketplace also issued a plea to the Scottish Parliament ahead of its vote tomorrow, its chief executive, Peter Vicary-Smith, commenting : “Since the launch of our supercomplaint in May 2007, Which? has campaigned for the opening up of legal services to provide more competition and better services for the public in Scotland. Too often the debate has been dominated by the interests of the legal profession when it should have been about the best interests of the public.

Mr Vicary-Smith urged MSPS to put the interests of the public first, saying : “The Legal Services Bill debate tomorrow must be about the public deserving and receiving the best and most effective provision of legal services for the future. That cannot happen without the legal profession being allowed to modernise. ‘We urge MSPs to put the interest of the public first and vote through the Legal Services Bill.”

Consumer Focus Scotland also issued a statement on their view regarding ‘approved regulators’ which are to be appointed by the Scottish Government to regulate current & new entrants to the expanded legal services market if the bill becomes law.

The unwelcome prospect of the Law Society of Scotland being made an ‘approved regulator’, has caused many (including myself) to suspect having the Law Society again regulate complaints involving legal services will bring the same infamous historical problems regarding regulation & consumer protection against poor legal services in Scotland as Scots consumers have always had to bear when attempting to gain a fair hearing of complaints against the legal profession.

A spokesperson for Consumer Focus Scotland gave its view on approved regulators :

“The key principle that must underpin the bill is that users of legal services must have the same level of protection whatever legal services provider they use. We believe it is crucial that all regulators of legal services apply high standards of regulation. For example, we are pleased that a policy of proactive regulation is to be adopted for licensed legal services providers. It is in the interests of consumers that regular checks are undertaken to ensure licensed providers are acting in a way which is compatible with the regulatory objectives, rather than waiting until a consumer has been adversely affected before taking action. We believe the principle of proactive regulation should also be applied to regulation of traditional forms of practice to ensure consumers can be confident of the consistency of approach to the regulation of legal services, whatever type of provider they access.”

“As regards any specific potential regulators, we did not support the inclusion of section 7(4)(a)(i) of the Bill, which allows authorisation to act as a regulator of licensed legal services providers to be awarded without limit of time. We believe it is necessary to have in place a robust procedure to review the authorisation of a regulator of licensed legal services, including reviewing how their regulatory scheme adheres to and applies the regulatory objectives and obligations.”

“We were disappointed that the Bill does not contain provision for establishing an advisory panel to advise Ministers on applications for authorisation to act as an approved regulator and to keep the regulatory framework under review. We stated in our response to the ‘Wider Choice and Better Protection’ consultation that establishing an advisory panel was a necessary safeguard, given the potential for a regulatory body to have the dual or multiple responsibilities for regulating a licensed legal services provider, regulating individual professionals and promoting the interests of the public and the profession. Such a panel could also play an important role in monitoring the regulator body’s performance against the regulatory objectives. We suggested that as with the Consumer Panel in England and Wales, this panel should be made up entirely of non-lawyers and should include representation of the consumer interest.”

Video coverage of key points of testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Justice Committee by the legal profession and consumer groups, can be viewed in my earlier reports listed below or at InjusticeTV & LawyerTV

Readers can view my report of the Law Society of Scotland’s testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Scottish Parliament, here : Little mention of consumer protection for Scots as Law Society give evidence to Holyrood on Legal Services Bill reforms

Earlier coverage of the OFT & Which? testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Scottish Parliament is available here : OFT & Which? call for independent regulation of lawyers as Justice Committee hears evidence on Legal Services Bill

Earlier coverage of the Faculty of Advocates, Society of Solicitor Advocates & Professor Alan Paterson’s testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Scottish Parliament is available here : Holyrood’s Justice Committee hears of doubts & criticisms from Law Professor & Faculty of Advocates on Legal Services Bill reforms

Earlier coverage of Consumer Focus Scotland & the UNITE union’s testimony on the Legal Services Bill to the Scottish Parliament is available here : Legal Services Bill : Consumer Focus & UNITE union differ over access to justice proposals as ‘Tesco Law’ comes under the Holyrood microscope

You can read my full coverage of the progress of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland – The story so far and decide for yourselves how much the Scottish Government’s proposals for improving access to justice will really improve YOUR access to justice.

Consumers will benefit to a degree if the Legal Services Bill is passed and will benefit a whole lot more if many of the amendments demanded by the Law Society of Scotland & vested interests are rejected …. indeed .. MSPs should put the public interest first during tomorrow’s vote on the Legal Services Bill.

 

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Christmas for Crooked Lawyers : Law Society of Scotland say ‘make us approved regulator’ and we will continue to protect dishonest solicitors who rip-off clients

The 4m Crooked Lawyer - Daily Record 1991Expect more of these as Law Society of Scotland’s campaign to be sole regulator of legal services in Scotland begins. CHRISTMAS FOR CROOKED SCOTS LAWYERS is apparently just around the corner as the Law Society of Scotland today step up their ‘public offensive’ in the media to ensure the Scottish Government appoints the infamously anti-client lawyers-regulating-lawyers body as one of, or perhaps the sole ‘approved regulator’ of all legal related services in Scotland, after the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill clears the Scottish Parliament. The move, if allowed to happen could, according to consumer sources ensure dark decades ahead for ever growing numbers of Scots consumers who end up being ripped off by their poorly regulated solicitors.

The Legal Services Bill proposes a system of licensed legal service providers, overseen by regulators approved and licensed by the Scottish Government, an idea which came about from the results of the Scottish Government’s consultation euphemistically titled : Wider choice and better protection: A consultation paper on the regulation of legal services in Scotland. This consultation came in response to a ‘supercomplaint’ filed by consumer organisation Which? to the Office of Fair Trading in 2007, alleging lack of competition in Scotland’s solicitor only dominated legal services market.

Applications for the position of “approved regulator” do not appear at this late stage of the Scottish Parliament’s consideration of the bill to include any bodies other than the Law Society of Scotland, which would spell double disaster for consumer protection and the now forlorn hopes of the Office of Fair Trading to inject a degree of consumer choice & competition in Scotland’s monopolistic legal services market, currently under the control of Law Society member law firms.

The Scottish Government’s consultation did mention the OFT’s ‘concerns’ over the Law Society continuing to maintain its regulatory role, stating : “The Office of Fair Trading (OFT), amongst others, has expressed concerns about the regulatory and representative roles of the Society. Its view is that, in the interests of consumer protection, there should be a clear separation of the regulatory function from the responsibilities for representing and promoting the interests of the profession. It is argued that, for a profession that places emphasis on the avoidance of conflicts of interest (of even the appearance of such), undertaking both roles creates such a conflict.”

Scottish GovernmentScottish Government decided against independent regulation of legal services market, preferring to hand it over to Law Society. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament have, however, brushed these concerns aside, and legal insiders close to the Justice Committee and the Scottish Government have indicated there is a will “to simply hand the matter over to the Law Society and let them get on with it”. Scots consumers should be in no doubt at all the Legal Services Bill in its current form, tweaked & twittered by the Law Society beyond all recognition from the aims of the OFT & the Which? “supercomplaint”, will definitely not bring wider choice or any “better protection” from Scotland’s traditionally poorly regulated, poor quality & extortionately expensive legal services market.

Law Society of ScotlandThe Law Society of Scotland are now promoting their regulation skills & Guarantee Fund to gain approved status for expanded legal services market. Undaunted by facts, history, and copious media coverage over the years of crooked lawyers ‘getting away with it’, the Law Society of Scotland are pressing ahead with their campaign to be confirmed by the Scottish Government as the approved regulator, touting their current regulatory regime as “rigorous”, and almost laughably describing the Scottish Solicitors Guarantee Fund as “one of the jewels in the crown of their system to protect those who have lost money because of dishonest solicitors”.

In reality, the Law Society’s deceptively titled Guarantee Fund does not live up to its title, preferring to throw out, stall, or kill off most claims made against dishonest solicitors. I reported more on the actual workings of the Guarantee Fund in March 2009, here : Law Society’s ‘Guarantee Fund’ for clients of crooked lawyers revealed as multi million pound masterpiece of claims dodging corruption. During my reporting on the Guarantee Fund last March, so many emails & cases came in regarding clients difficulties with the Guarantee Fund, the Law Society’s supposed ‘jewel in the crown’, I issued an ADVISORY for clients to protect their funds from the lack of protection offered by the Guarantee Fund itself.

While the Guarantee Fund does all it can to avoid paying out compensation for clients money taken by dishonest solicitors, the fund also operates a policy of shifting the goal posts on whether claims qualify for its own Guarantee Fund requirements, or should be sent to the equally disingenuous “Master Policy”, the Law Society of Scotland’s Professional Indemnity Insurance scheme, linked by an independent report carried out by the University of Manchester’s Law School to suicides of clients who had attempted to claim damages against ‘crooked lawyers’.

One client who attempted to claim against the Guarantee Fund for an amount of over £118,000 which had been embezzled by his solicitor, found his claim shifted back & forth between the Guarantee Fund & Master Policy over six times, and has still not received any compensation for the money his solicitor stole from him, after over six years from making the original claim. Does that sound like “consumer protection” ? I think not …

It will also come as no surprise to readers virtually all claims against the Master Policy are also delayed, shifted between it & the Guarantee Fund, or more likely closed down by the Law Society and its insurers, Royal Sun Alliance & Marsh.

SLCC report headerReport into Master Policy revealed Law Society concealed information on client suicides. The University of Manchester’s REPORT into the Master Policy found that claimants “described being intimidated, being forced to settle rather than try to run a hearing without legal support, and all felt that their claims’ outcomes were not fair. Some claimants felt that they should have received more support, and that this lack was further evidence of actors within the legal system being “against” Master Policy claimants. Judges were described as being “former solicitors”, members of the Law Society – and thus, against claimants. Some described judges and other judicial officers as being very hostile to party litigants.”

The Manchester University report concluded, “Thus, the Master Policy is essentially an insurance scheme intended to provide professional indemnity insurance coverage for solicitors.The purpose of the Master Policy, the simple answer is to allow solicitors to sleep at night. It provides professional indemnity insurance cover for firms.”

Asked why the Scottish Parliament’s current Justice Committee, chaired by the Conservative’s Bill Aitken MSP, had pointedly REFUSED to call members of the public who had actual experience of making claims to the Guarantee Fund & Master Policy, a source close to the Committee said “What do you expect ? The Committee simply don’t want to hear it, and the Law Society doesn’t want such testimony from aggrieved consumers entering into the Legal Services Bill equation which might raise the same kinds of questions & problems that arose in the LPLA Bill.”

Clearly the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee are not one bit interested in the actual experiences of those who have attempted to claim compensation against either the Guarantee Fund or the Master Policy, as a vote taken by the Justice Committee and the Scottish Parliament will, just as the Law Society hoped, force anyone in Scotland making a claim against a dishonest lawyer to go through the Guarantee Fund’s abhorrent procedures, as I reported earlier in June, here : Legal Services Bill vote by MSPs will force all victims of ‘crooked lawyers’ to use Law Society’s corrupt ‘claims dodging’ Guarantee Fund

The Scottish Government have also chose the ‘appease the aggressor’ approach, caving into the Law Society on several key consumer protection planks of the Legal Services Bill, which now appears to be little more than a self congratulatory belated birthday present for the Law Society of Scotland.

The Law Society of Scotland’s current President, Jamie Millar said in a Press Release : “The Society has sought to ensure that the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill sets out robust regulatory objectives to make sure that those providing legal services are regulated according to a strict code of conduct and professional principles to ensure that the public interest remains at the heart of legal services provision in Scotland.”

Nonsense. The Law Society’s regulation of legal services in Scotland to this date has always proved the public interest and certainly the client’s best interests remain the last issue to be considered when dealing with regulation.

An official from one of Scotland’s law reform campaign groups said this morning : “Bringing in the Law Society of Scotland as an approved regulator or perhaps, if the Law Society has its way, the only approved regulator will do nothing to enhance consumer protection against rogue elements of the legal services market should the bill become law and we will be still taking about crooked lawyers and poor regulation by the Law Society ten years from now. It will be like Christmas for crooked lawyers.”

Christmas for Crooked Lawyers indeed .. if the Law Society of Scotland remain regulator of legal services ….

You can read my own coverage of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland – The story so far

 

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Holyrood’s Justice Committee votes against majority non-lawyer ownership of law firms, saves investors from funding Scots legal world’s organised crime gangs

Justice CommitteeScottish Parliament’s Justice Committee voted against non-lawyer ownership of law firms. INVESTORS can breathe a sigh of relief at the result of a vote at the latest Justice Committee hearing of the Scottish Government’s beleaguered Legal Services Bill, where last Tuesday, MSPs voted through an amendment written by the Law Society Scottish Government to restrict non-lawyer ownership of Scottish law firms to 49%, throwing out the Scottish Government’s initial proposals that non-lawyers could end up owning 100% of law firms if the ‘alternative business structures’ as originally proposed in the Legal Services Bill had become law.

The problem with the original proposal, allowing non-lawyers to invest or even totally own a Scots law firm raised the question who would actually want to buy in to any Scottish law firm with the kind of poor regulatory & client treatment record which is so typical of providers of legal services in Scotland’s currently solicitor only dominated legal services market ?

Who for instance, would want to invest in a law firm with over thirty partners which is currently facing 21 separate complaints investigations (5 of those involving embezzlement of client funds), 20 negligence claims, 9 claims against the Guarantee Fund & 2 criminal investigations ?

Luckily for the law firm in the above typical example, and noting many others have similarly poor complaints records, they wouldn’t have to disclose such information to potential investors and of course, the Law Society of Scotland would never volunteer such detailed information which may slightly discourage any investors with an ounce of common sense from touching a Scottish law firm with a barge pole …

This is certainly one vote on the Legal Services Bill which may well end up saving outside investors a lot of money, as most Scots law firms are seen as poorly performing & untrustworthy, holding among the worst rates of client complaints & consumer dissatisfaction in the modern world, where it has become more the norm than the exception for clients to be ripped off after engaging the services of even the most famous law firms in Scotland’s legal services marketplace today.

The Justice Committee’s latest stage two debate on the Legal Services Bill, during which several amendments were debated as well as the non-lawyer ownership issue (Amendment 317), can be read in full here : Legal Services (Scotland) Bill: Stage 2

robert_brownRobert Brown MSP (LibDem) voted in favour of restricting outside control of Scots law firms. Robert Brown, speaking in favour of Amendment 317, put forward by the Law Society to restrict outside ownership of law firms said : “Amendment 317 is designed to ensure that there is a majority holding in the hands of solicitors or other regulated professionals. It is the compromise position that was debated and supported by the Law Society of Scotland. I hope that it has the merit both of being reasonable and, as the convener indicated, of being common ground on which the profession can regroup, to some extent.”

Mr Brown continued : “I do not pretend that it is the perfect solution—there are issues with all the potential solutions—but it provides further protection against outside control, which is, rightly, of concern to many solicitors. Last week we debated issues relating to the rights of minority investors. It is certainly the case that influence is as relevant as control. Nevertheless, amendment 317 would put a brake on the extent to which law firms can be taken over by outside interests. The committee should apply that brake.”

I for one am certainly in agreement with Mr Brown on this issue. Unsuspecting members of the public & potential investors must be protected from pumping their money into some law firms whose business models border (or even surpass) that of organised crime. Perhaps an amendment should be raised prohibiting law firms from accepting any outside capital investment, thus saving a lot of people from a severely dodgy investment in very dodgy law firms …

Fergus EwingFergus Ewing, Minister for Community Safety argued in favour of external ownership of law firms. The Scottish Government’s Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing, once again apparently standing in for the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill who has all but disappeared from the Legal Services Bill debate put forward the Scottish Government’s view, claiming the Legal Services Bill would usher in effective regulation : “I emphasise that the bill contains a particularly Scottish solution. It is important that we have a robust regulatory regime. I can recall having been involved in debating no more robust regulatory regime as a member of the Parliament for the past decade. That regime will also be obtained at virtually no expense to the taxpayer. That contrasts with the position down south, where the Legal Services Board’s implementation costs to 31 December 2009 were £4.58 million and its budget for running costs in its first full year, which began in April 2010, is £4.74 million. Similar costs here would not be as high as that, but would be comparable.”

Mr Ewing, you must be kidding. Regulation without expense to the taxpayer ? Even the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission received a whopping £2million from the taxpayer, effectively a public gift to the legal profession which your Ministerial colleagues now refuse to talk about or demand returned to help protect public services now on the verge of being slashed due to the UK’s budget deficit.

SLCC LAW SOCIETYLaw Society of Scotland & Scottish Legal Complaints Commission are anti-client when regulating complaints against lawyers. Robust regulation of the legal profession in Scotland is simply not possible, as all reforms to regulation to the present date have been compromised by the Law Society and so willingly voted through by politicians in the Scottish Parliament. The new broom of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has become little more than the anti-client front organisation for the Law Society of Scotland and rogue lawyers the Law Society always wanted it to be, leaving the reforms of the LPLA (Scotland) Act 2007 firmly in the rubbish bin. The same is already happening with the Scottish Government’s plans for a ‘robust regulatory regime’ for the Legal Services Bill which has been steadily re-written by the legal profession itself.

Without much surprise, the Law Society of Scotland welcomed the Justice Committee’s vote to retain Law Society member majority ownership of law firms, thus ensuring the society’s continued influence & control over consumers choice of legal services in Scotland.

Jamie Millar, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “A number of key amendments were debated today and I am very pleased that the committee has agreed that there should be a majority ownership of new legal services providers by solicitors and other regulated professionals. It’s clear that MSPs on the committee have listened carefully to the issues and concerns raised by the profession and others, particularly those about external ownership, and what has been agreed today is very much in accordance with the Society’s own policy on ABS ownership.”

Lord Hamilton judicialThe Lord President Lord Hamilton is once again ‘a buffer’ between the Government & legal profession to maintain lawyers independence (from independent accountability). Mr Millar also said that the Society was pleased that the role Lord President of the Court of Session was to be enhanced and that his consent would be required in the appointment of approved regulators. He echoed the comments of Robert Brown MSP who said the role of the Lord President was an important ‘constitutional buffer’ (in other words, a well practiced drain-blocker, immovable by any means in existence) between the government and the legal profession and necessary to preserve the independence of the profession.

With the dreaded inclusion of the Lord President in all of this, at the behest of the Law Society of course, lets hope the Lord President doesn’t take 40 years to come to a decision (as he did with McKenzie Friends) on whether approved regulators (the Law Society of Scotland being the only ones applying) are functioning properly or not – and since the Law Society hasn’t managed to regulate the legal profession properly in the past 60 years, we doubtless can expect a continuance of the Law Society of Scotland’s style of crooked self-regulation when or if the Legal Services Bill manages to pass into law.

So, obviously the Law Society is pleased with it’s re-write of the Legal Services Bill after all that fuss & pantomime between so-called ‘factions’ of the Scots legal profession wanting to break away if they didn’t get their way … and then getting themselves elected to the Law Society’s ruling council after things went their way ….

My advice to consumers ?

The Legal Services Bill as it is being re-written by the Law Society of Scotland, will not benefit consumers of legal services in Scotland one bit, so much that now, some of the consumer organisations which are responsible for the Legal Services Bill’s very existence, now choose not to issue comment on its progress nor have those same consumer organisations chose to campaign against any of the Law Society sponsored re-writes of the Legal Services Bill, which was initially claimed would bring free choice of legal services to consumers in Scotland.

Clearly, for honest, dependable legal services, consumers are going to have to look elsewhere, as the Scottish legal profession under the regulation of the Law Society of Scotland & SLCC couldn’t be trusted with an exploded oil well, which I’m sure they would argue was nothing to do with them as similarly appears to be the case in each of the 5000 complaints & grievances filed or expressed by clients against solicitors & advocates each year in Scotland.

My advice to investors looking at putting their money into Scottish law firms ?

Take your investments elsewhere ! There are billions more opportunities and safer havens around the world for your money than investing in Scots law firms with poor regulator records who would much rather dance the tune of the Law Society of Scotland than give you a good, stable, dependable return on your investment. You would be well advised to avoid investing in what many corporate & private clients of Scots law firms, through their own bitter experiences of using solicitors in Scotland dub ‘the organised crime of the Scottish legal services market’.

You can read my own coverage of the Legal Services Bill here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland – The story so far

 

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Scottish Government plan to regulate non-lawyer ‘will writers’ may see Law Society regulate all complaints against mishandled wills, legal business in Scotland

Fergus EwingCommunity Safety Minister Fergus Ewing announces regulation for non-lawyer will writers. FERGUS EWING, the Scottish Government’s Community Safety Minister standing in for the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announced the latest round of amendments to the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill which include the regulation of non-lawyer will writers in Scotland, some of whom have been targeting people with the same sharp practices so often employed by solicitors & law firms who, as the complaints statistics reflect, still represent the greatest threat to deceased clients wills & executry estates.

However, there is a deadly twist in the plans announced by the Scottish Government, which may well end up ensuring any non-lawyer will writing services and indeed any new entrants to Scotland’s legal services market, are regulated by the Law Society of Scotland, as no other regulatory bodies have indicated they intend apply to Scottish Ministers to be ‘approved regulators’ for the expanded legal services market which the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill is designed to reform, aiming to bringing wider access to justice for Scots consumers of legal services, many of which are currently available through solicitor members of the Law Society of Scotland.

Law Society of Scotland & ICASAccountants regulator ICAS had intended to apply as an ‘approved regulator’ although the Law Society are now viewed as the ‘favoured applicant’ by Scottish Ministers. Initially the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) had announced they were considering making a bid to become an ‘approved’ regulator in the reformed legal services market, however ICAS have not updated their position on the issue, and with the dithering, anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission also undecided about whether it will apply to the Scottish Government as an ‘approved regulator’ of legal services, the only contender for regulating any new entrants to Scotland’s currently solicitor only legal services sector is the Law Society itself, leaving the possibility the infamous solicitor’s self regulator may well use its dominant position to force out new entrants to the legal services market it may see as competition to its own solicitor members.

As I am in favour of regulating non-lawyer will writers, I have no huge problems with the Scottish Government’s proposals, however the fact nothing has been done to protect the public from the Law Society of Scotland’s poor regulation of solicitors & law firms who in many cases, deliberately mishandle a deceased client’s estate simply to ramp up their own firm’s profits & personal finance deals with some of the major High Street banks on the back of assets of deceased clients, means there is still effectively no protection for Scots consumers when it comes to wills & executries.

Allowing the Law Society to regulate the entire wills & executries sector where the Law Society has already proved it cannot regulate its own member’s conduct on handling wills & the assets of deceased clients, will not improve consumer protection nor help reduce the huge amount of will fraud in Scotland, whether such frauds are committed by lawyers, or non-lawyers.

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland covers up too many complaints against wills & executry estates to protect rogue lawyers. It all comes down to poor regulation, and with estimates of solicitors siphoning off tens of millions of pounds a year from wills & executry estates in Scotland, and getting away with it because the Law Society continually whitewashes complaints made by families, beneficiaries and sometimes even charities, then until a fully independent regulator is created to ensure complaints against all legal services, including particularly wills & executries, the mere window dressing for one part of the industry, while leaving the lion’s share of will handling to the even worse regulated legal profession, will do nothing to protect members of the public and their bequests to families & friends etc …

The Scottish Government’s proposals, announced earlier this week by Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing are as follows : Legal Services Bill to regulate non-lawyer will writers with the actual amendments lodged at the Scottish Parliament : Amendments to Legal Services Bill : non-lawyer will writers (pdf)

ScottishGovernmentScottish Government announcement on non-lawyer will writer regulation. The proposed amendment to the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill follows a consultation process, and would apply a set of regulatory rules, enforcement measures and sanctions to ensure non-lawyer will writers conform to acceptable industry practice. It will bring to an end an era where consumers have been vulnerable to non-regulated practices which are often unnecessarily expensive (the same couldn’t happen in a solicitor’s office, of course …)

One example of this was when an elderly client was charged £1,000 for a straightforward will in a non inheritance tax estate. That client was driven to her bank by the will writer to withdraw the money in cash to pay the fee. In another case, consumers wanting a will have been sold specialised services they do not require. In some cases they are being persuaded to pay up to £2,400 when a simple will costing £150 would suffice. (similar stories have been told where solicitors have done the same to their clients …)

Fergus EwingCommunity Safety Minister Fergus Ewing said: “That is why we intend to regulate non-lawyer will writers. Yesterday, I lodged amendments to the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill to provide for such regulation. A number of persons and organisations have made representations to us about non-lawyer will writers, providing examples of poor practice. These include lack of skill and competence; “cold calling”; and advice based on English law. We are very concerned that some non-lawyer will writers may be exploiting the lack of regulation to the detriment of the consumer in Scotland.”

“The regulation will continue to allow non-lawyers to provide a will writing service, but will protect consumers by ensuring that such will writers are subject to robust regulatory rules, enforcement measures and sanctions. However, we will not regulate individuals preparing their own will, with or without a DIY pack, including “deathbed” wills, or other persons providing a free advice service.”

The Scottish Government consultation on the regulation of non-lawyer will writers took place between December 18, 2009 and February 19, 2010. The consultation paper sought views on the possible regulation of non-lawyer will writers in Scotland. The Legal Services (Scotland) Bill (“the Bill”), which was introduced in the Scottish Parliament on September 30, 2009, provides a legislative vehicle to provide for regulation of non-lawyer will writer services in Scotland. Following representations made to it, the Scottish Government is concerned that some non-lawyer will writers may be exploiting the lack of regulation to the detriment of the consumer in Scotland.

As well as individual instances of poor practice, it is possible to identify some main themes, including the following:

* Lack of skill and competence * Poor knowledge of inheritance tax * Advice based on English law * Low advertised costs translating into substantial fees through bait and switch and tying in of other services * Cold calling and unsolicited mail * Lack of professional indemnity insurance * Poor storage of wills

The consultation responses indicated that there is almost overwhelming support for regulation of non-lawyer will writers amongst the respondents. Indeed, 45 out of the 48 respondents are in favour of such regulation. As to the method of regulation, the vast majority of respondents are in favour of using the same model as outlined in Part 3 of the Bill. The regulation will continue to allow non-lawyers to provide a will writing service, but, at the same time, will protect consumers, by providing a set of regulatory rules, enforcement measures and sanctions that would apply to such non-lawyers. It is not the aim to regulate individuals preparing their own will, with or without a DIY pack, including “deathbed” wills, or other persons providing a free advice service.

Michael ClancyMichael Clancy, the Law Society’s Director of ‘Law Reform’. Michael Clancy of the Law Society unsurprisingly supported the Scottish Government’s plans to regulate non-lawyer will writers, as the plans had come about from orders representations made by the Law Society of Scotland to Scottish Ministers, where the society clearly wishes to retain it’s regulatory role & power over all entrants to Scotland’s legal services market. Mr Clancy said : “We’re very pleased that the Scottish Government has taken on board the representations made by the Society and others about the regulation of will writers. We firmly believe that non-lawyer will writers who provide a service for a fee should be regulated to ensure that members of the public are protected and can be sure that they are getting good advice at a reasonable cost.”

Since members of the public are currently not protected from solicitors mishandling wills, nor are clients getting good advice from solicitors at reasonable costs, how would allowing the Law Society to regulate non-lawyers improve consumer protection ? The answer is clearly it wouldn’t, but it would of course, maintain the Law Society’s power base and hold over the Scottish legal services market, which the Law Society is clearly intent on holding onto, at whatever cost.

As far as the individual instances of poor practice listed by the Scottish Government in their press release are concerned, most or all of the instances quoted in reference to non-lawyer will writers also apply to the services of a solicitor, which begs the question why the Scottish Government are content for the Law Society of Scotland to poorly regulate thousands of complaints about solicitors mishandling wills & estates, while introducing new regulation to oversee non-lawyer will writers.

Lack of skill & competence – which many solicitors seem to suffer from when they are found out after robbing a deceased’s estate of a few hundred thousand pounds for their own personal benefit. Indeed, lack of skill & competence is one of the favourite excuses for the Law Society of Scotland to cover such cases up, with a slap on the wrist for the solicitor concerned, and off he goes to work once again to ruin someone else’s will .. and again, and again, and again …

Poor knowledge of inheritance tax – again, another rampant issue in the legal profession, and speaking from experience in the case of Borders solicitor Andrew Penman, of Stormonth Darling solicitors Kelso, who ignored up to eleven letters from the Inland Revenue on inheritance tax, prompting the Inland Revenue to contact me directly, well … what more needs to be said ?

Low advertised costs translating into substantial fees through bait and switch and tying in of other services –The same happens in a solicitors office when it comes to dealing with a will. Just watch how quickly huge overdraft accounts are opened on a deceased’s client’s estate with the solicitor’s bank, gaining the solicitor cheap personal finance deals using the deceased’s client’s assets as cover in what is one of the most common ‘scams’ known in executry work.

Lack of Professional Indemnity Insurance – which solicitors do have, in terms of the Master Insurance Policy, run by the US owned insurers Marsh, who pled guilty to fraud & bid rigging criminal charges in the USA along with Royal Sun Alliance on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland. However, the Master Policy hardly ever pays out, and if victims of solicitor will fraud try and make a claim against either the Master Policy for negligence, or the equally corrupt “Guarantee Fund” compensation scheme run by the Law Society, sheer hell is unleashed, making sure claims fail on a routine basis.

It should also be noted I reported earlier on the personal cost of trying to claim against solicitors Professional Indemnity Insurance which revealed Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’

Poor storage of wills – indeed, I could write about hundreds of solicitors who are or have been the subject of complaints to the Law Society where original wills have went missing, to be replaced with doctored versions giving intricate & costly duties to the solicitor never intended by the deceased client, and in some bizarre cases, even leaving legacies to the solicitors themselves.

I have reported in earlier articles on the difficulties & dangers of allowing a solicitor to handle wills & executry work, particularly focussing on one of the primary dangers of making a solicitor an executor of a will – something I would not recommend anyone ever try as such a decision will lead to many problems for those left behind to deal with. You can read my earlier report on this topic here : Consumer warning on wills : Don’t make your lawyer your executor as soaring cases of ‘will fraud’ show Law Society closes ranks on complaints

Reprinted from my earlier report are a few examples of solicitors defrauding wills & executry estates, which it appears the Scottish Government are still content to allow by leaving regulation of lawyers in the hands of lawyers, and thus denying the Scots public the total consumer protection of fully independent regulation of legal services in Scotland.

You decide who should be protected from whom after reading these examples :

Example 1

will photo  stockSolicitor ripped off dead client & family, paid huge interest to his own Bank. An elderly man recently deceased had left his home, possessions & sizeable investments to his wife & family in what he obviously thought was a simple straight forward will, making the mistake of appointing his solicitor as his executor. The first thing the solicitor did was open up three overdraft accounts with a local High Street bank which coincidentally, the solicitor also deals with on a business & personal basis. Over the three years the solicitor took to process his deceased client’s estate, the High Street Bank received a staggering £27,000 in interest alone on the overdraft accounts, despite there being no debts on the deceased’s estate. Documents also now reveal the solicitor negotiated some cheap personal finance from the same High Street bank to purchase a second home.

The widow of the deceased, upon being told the investments in the will had been cut in value by three quarters, made a complaint to the Law Society of Scotland after discovering through careful investigation her late husband’s investments had been changed around by the solicitor at his own discretion rather than being realised and handed over to the family as per the instructions contained in the will. Now the Law Society have backed the solicitor against the family, despite a £250,000 loss being incurred in the late husband’s investments, together with the loss of title deeds to the home in which the widow still lives, while it seems the solicitor has experienced a remarkable increase in his own personal wealth, along with 3 recent top of the range cars.

Example 2

will photo  stockSolicitor & accountant ripped off client’s charitable donations via her will. The result of the charitable intentions of a deceased elderly nurse who bequeathed her substantial entire savings including her house, in total valued at over £2 million to charitable causes, has so far resulted in not one of her wishes being respected by the solicitor and a long time friend, an accountant, she made executors of her will.

Charities who were named in the initial will have, after two years, yet to receive a penny, while again, a local High Street Bank has received over £18,000 in interest on several overdraft accounts opened by the solicitor allegedly to pay debts on the estate which never existed. Meanwhile the solicitor has also bought himself a second house, as has the deceased’s’ long time friend’ the accountant, and the charities who were due to receive sums of money are now questioning whether they will receive anything, given a recent letter to one charity from the solicitor suggesting “there was little left in the estate to cover the charitable bequests” – this despite the fact the nurse had no debts whatsoever, and owned her own home.

The paralegal who brought this case to the attention of Law Society of Scotland has been sacked from solicitor’s law firm, and since there is no one to independently monitor how the solicitor and accountant, both acting as executor, have so fraudulently mishandled the estate of their client (and victim) nothing will probably be done against those who have so obviously plundered the estate of their dead client. Even the charities themselves are apparently reluctant to make a complaint to the Law Society of Scotland, possibly because a fleet of solicitors wives and family relatives sit on one of the charities concerned.

Example 3

will photo  stockSolicitor stole 400k from will, no action by Law Society. A solicitor named as executor in an estate of an elderly unmarried man who had no surviving family, dying three years ago, tore up the original will of his client, and replaced it with one he had created to cover up the fact that a whopping £400,000 has disappeared from his deceased client’s bank accounts.

The will, which left a substantial bequest to a care home managed by the deceased’s local authority, has also seen the usual huge payments of interest fees to a local High Street Bank, in one case alone of £14,000 of pure interest, the same bank handling the solicitor’s law firm accounts.

The local authority had questioned when the bequest was to be made over to them, after being told by the solicitor there was little left to pay out his client’s wishes. The Law Society are supposedly still looking into the case, with as yet no action against the solicitor concerned.

Example 4

will photo  stockSolicitor acting as executor stole over £30,000 from children’s trust. A deceased soldier who appointed his lawyer as executor, leaving everything to his wife & children, has unwittingly placed his family in the position of having to endure sickening refusals by the legal profession to do anything to recover over £30,000 of investments which were placed in a trust by the deceased client, for his children. The solicitor, acting as executor, cashed in the trust and used it to pay off gambling debts which everyone including the Law Society is now trying cover up.

If the Scottish Government are keen to protect members of the public and their wills, taking self regulation away from the legal profession, who appear to be causing most of the damage against people’s wills should be a primary objective of the Legal Services Bill …

 

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