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Tag Archives: Scottish Law Agents Society

Lawyers FOI secrecy feud with regulator wrecks £10K ‘Complaints Handling Research’ as 75% of solicitors, advocates refuse to disclose client complaint statistics

SLCCLawyers survey boycott & unverifiable data ruins complaints research. COSTLY RESEARCH undertaken by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) into how lawyers & advocates ‘handle’ complaints from their clients has today been labelled “an expensive failure & time wasting exercise” after results revealed a staggering 75% of all Scottish law firms & advocates either “refused”, were “not available” or “terminated” their participation in the research which sought disclosure of key details on how complaints from dissatisfied clients are handled made to them before clients are forced to approach regulators such as the SLCC or Law Society of Scotland.

And while the lack of participation effectively rendered the ‘independent’ SLCC’s research unusable, insiders at the regulator now also believe many law firms fiddled the numbers and simply LIED in what little data was actually handed over by the legal profession, as none of what was submitted can be independently verified or subject to public inspection.

Figures released in the two reports published by the SLCC show that of the total numbers of questionnaires & letters sent out to every law firm & advocate in Scotland by research firm TNS-BMRB who were commissioned by the SLCC to carry out the research, 850 law firms and 350 advocates either refused or for a variety of other reasons, failed to disclose any details on how complaints made by dissatisfied clients are handled.

Although TNS BMRB had undertaken the research in May & June 2012, both reports had curiously remained secret until the SLCC responded to a Freedom of Information request from Diary of Injustice, which can be viewed online in its entirety, here : FOI Release – SLCC Research into complaint numbers & complaints handling by practitioners

Later that same day (31st January) after the documentation was released to Diary of Injustice journalists, the SLCC issued a press release with a short comment from Richard Keen, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates. There has so far been no comment from the Law Society of Scotland on the survey or the lack of participation of its members.

Both reports can be viewed on the SLCC’s website HERE & HERE or online here : SLCC Final Report on Complaints Numbers & Complaints Handling amongst Scottish Advocates & here : SLCC Final Report on Complaints Numbers & Complaints Handling amongst Scottish Legal Firms

The mass non-participation of Scotland’s legal profession in the ‘independent’ regulator’s complaints survey comes as no surprise after Diary of Injustice earlier reported on calls by various sections of Scotland’s legal profession to boycott the survey after lawyers groups such as the Scottish Law Agents Society (SLAS) voiced fears that any information handed over to the SLCC would be released to the media via Freedom of Information Requests.

To allay the lawyers concerns over complaints data being released to the public, the ‘independent’ SLCC brokered a sinister deal of secrecy, and ordered research firm TNS BMRB not to hand over any data to the SLCC directly, thus avoiding Freedom of Information and its requirements. The SLCC issued a public statement to the legal profession saying : “While it is the case that the SLCC is subject to Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), it should be noted that information is being ingathered on a confidential basis by the researchers purely for the purpose of statistical analysis by them. Information from individual legal firms, or data that could identify any legal firms or individual practitioners, will not be passed on to the SLCC.”

DOI reported on this highly questionable move on the ‘independent’ SLCC’s deal with lawyers to avoid FOI disclosure of complaints information, here : Law regulator SLCC responds to lawyers call to boycott complaints research : ‘We will AVOID Freedom of Information by stashing data with researchers’

TNS BMRB were tasked with securing the following information for their research :

Statistical Information

1. To establish number and type of transactions by practice area, since 2008;

2. To establish number of complaints dealt with since 2008, by practice area;

3. To identify from where complaints originate;

4. To establish the outcome and disposal of complaints.

Complaints handling

1. To identify management information systems in place for complaint record keeping;

2. To establish how lessons learned about complaints handling are captured and cascaded through the firm;

3. To assess how clients and others are informed about how to make a complaint;

4. To determine the type and provider of any training/guidance received on complaint handling;

5. To ascertain the appeal of different options for further support on complaint handling

The SLCC claimed that the research, the first of its kind in Scotland, was intended as an initial fact-finding exercise. As such, it has highlighted scope for further work which the SLCC will undertake as part of its on-going oversight role.

However, the information which made it into the research and the conclusions of both reports unsurprisingly reveal complaints records within the Scottish legal profession are at best, a mess.

More worryingly, if unsurprisingly, analysis of the reports by consumer campaigners reveal a deliberate act of deception on the part of lawyers to avoid accurate reporting of client dissatisfaction with Scottish solicitors & law firms, now rated as among the worst & most expensive in the entire European Union.

Critics who have viewed & studied both the report into law firms & advocates have raised serious doubts over the accuracy of information handed over to the research firm by Scottish lawyers & advocates, highlighting the fact there is absolutely no way to authenticate any of the data handed over to the researchers in interviews or questionnaires.

One senior spokesperson for a Scottish consumer group said she believed “much of the material was probably fabricated by law firms who were told not to reveal accurate complaints data to the SLCC or their researchers.”

Speaking about its piece of expensive, unverifiable research, David Buchanan Cook, the SLCC’s Head of Oversight issued a vague public statement claiming: “While the reports show that complaint levels are low, they are increasing. Complaints have a direct impact on any business, so it’s surprising that more practitioners don’t take simple steps to listen and to put matters right. The reports show that in a quarter of complaints resolved a simple apology was all that was needed yet a large number of practitioners faced with a complaint do nothing at all. In these cases both the complainer and the practitioner lose out.”

Mr Buchanan Cook continued “The reports do highlight that it can be more challenging for smaller firms and sole practitioners to deal with complaints in terms of resources, processes and experience. We will be working with both the Law Society and the Faculty of Advocates to draw up best practice guidance later this year to help. We will also be using the reports to identify where we can help the profession to improve complaint handling. The public has a right to expect complaints to be listened to and where something has gone wrong, the practitioner should put it right. It’s not just a question of fairness- it’s good business sense too.”

The SLCC refused to answer questions on the low participation rate of the survey and offered no comment on the legal profession’s call to boycott the SLCC’s research, which will be met out of its 2011-2012 budget. However, a legal insider at the SLCC admitted “lawyers had been expected to lie in their responses to the research”, now branded “an expensive failure & time wasting exercise”.

With the Law Society of Scotland apparently refusing to issue a press statement on the research, Richard Keen QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates was wheeled out to provide some backup to the beleaguered SLCC. Mr Keen said : “The Faculty of Advocates takes its responsibility for complaints handling extremely seriously and notes from the report that the level of complaints to new cases is “undoubtedly low.” The Faculty will study the report and engage with the SLCC in taking forward a number of broad themes that have been identified.”

It should be noted that clients & consumers were completely shut out of this SLCC research project, as Diary of Injustice earlier reported here : Consumers ‘locked out of debate’ as Scottish Legal Complaints Commission carries out yet more research on how solicitors handle complaints

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Law regulator SLCC responds to lawyers call to boycott complaints research : ‘We will AVOID Freedom of Information by stashing solicitors dirty data with researchers’

SLCCScottish Legal Complaints Commission says it will avoid FOI requests by stashing lawyers dirty complaints info with researchers. THE Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has responded to calls from a representative body & lobby group for lawyers to boycott a research project into complaints against Scottish solicitors, by assuring the legal profession that any data collected from law firms over how they deal with complaints from clients will AVOID Freedom of Information legislation (FOI) because the data gathered ‘will be held confidentially by a third party’ (in this case, a commercial firm of pollsters) and thus not subject to FOI requirements of disclosure.

Responding to a call by the Scottish Law Agents Society (SLAS) for solicitors to effectively not participate in the survey, reported by Diary of Injustice here :  Consumers ‘locked out of debate’ as Scottish Legal Complaints Commission carries out yet more research on how solicitors handle complaints, the SLCC sought to alleviate concerns over complaints data falling into the hands of the media & FOI requests, stating : “While it is the case that the SLCC is subject to Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), it should be noted that information is being ingathered on a confidential basis by the researchers purely for the purpose of statistical analysis by them. Information from individual legal firms, or data that could identify any legal firms or individual practitioners, will not be passed on to the SLCC.”

The statement from the SLCC has been widely taken to mean it has signalled to the Scottish Law Agents Society that it’s plans for how the research is gathered and by whom, will deter any leakage of the complaints data to the media or to journalists, individuals or other solicitors making Freedom of Information requests for full disclosure of the research and how it will eventually arrive at any conclusions.

A spokesperson for the SLCC added : “The SLCC sees this as a valuable piece of research which will inform all of our stakeholders, including both the profession and consumers, about how complaints are being dealt with. In particular, the results of the research will inform the SLCC when issuing guidance to the profession on hw practitioners deal with complaints made to them – this is one of the SLCC’s statutory functions contained in Section 40 of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007.”

The spokesperson continued : “Prior to engaging the researchers, the SLCC discussed the research with the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates, both of whom agreed to assist the SLCC in conducting the research. In terms of funding, the cost of the research was included in the SLCC’s budget for last year – ie the budget approved in April 2011. It therefore has no impact on the budget recently approved for the forthcoming year, nor has it an impact on the level of next year’s levy.”

A legal insider confirmed to Diary of Injustice this morning, the new research being carried out by the SLCC was discussed with the Law Society of Scotland & Faculty of Advocates. He indicated that “steps had been put in place to see none of the complaints research data leaks out to the press, consumers or clients of solicitors.”

Diary of Injustice further asked the SLCC what its intentions were if the effective boycott of the research by SLAS resulted in a lack of solicitors or law firms participating in the project, after SLAS released a lengthy tirade against the research plans earlier this week, claiming : “The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has written to solicitors’ firms requesting disclosure of information regarding complaints made against firms by clients and, presumably, other interested parties. It is always a matter of great difficulty for solicitors to disclose to third parties information derived from their clients’ files. There is an instinctive reaction to treat clients’ information in the same way that clients’ money is treated and to regard it as not being at the disposal of third parties. There is also the issue as to the privacy of the solicitor’s own business information. When we sought the views of a number of experienced practitioners and advisers as to whether this information should be supplied to SLCC, the immediate response was unanimously negative.”

SLAS went on to list 10 points concerning the SLCC’s complaints research project, among them suggesting a delaying action, and also advising member solicitors they had no obligation to hand over complaints information to the SLCC.

The SLCC responded to the SLAS statement, confirming it had no powers of compelling solicitors to take part in the research. The SLCC spokesperson said : “In respect of your questioning concerning solicitor participation, the SLCC is confident that it shall receive helpful contribution from solicitors when conducting its research into complaints. While the SLCC does not have the power to compel solicitors to take part in the research, we aver that most will consider the results of this research to offer valuable guidance to the profession on how practitioners deal with complaints made to them.”

Late yesterday, a senior Scottish Government insider indicated his displeasure of the way in which the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was seeking to cover up complaints data from the public. He said : “Earlier this week the Chair and the outgoing Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission used the media to publicly criticise the Scottish Government for not prioritising the SLCC or allowing it leeway to work within its legislative framework, which they also condemned as being badly written, complicated and costly to operate. Now they are telling lawyers they don’t need to worry about their complaints data being made public because the SLCC, a body which is FOI compliant is going to have someone else hold the data so it can avoid any FOI request for its disclosure ? These people don’t know if they are coming or going.”

A report on the media interview in which Jane Irvine, the Chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and the SLCC’s now former Chief Executive, Rosemary Agnew, criticised the Scottish Government and the 2007 Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act, can be read in an article featured on law blog Scottish Law Reporter, here : After spending £14 million, legal complaints pair admit “We are crap and so is the law that created us” as one jets off to £80K position as FOI Chief

While Jane Irvine remains Chair of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, Rosemary Agnew has now left her position as the SLCC’s Chief Executive, replacing Kevin Dunion as Scotland’s new Information Commissioner, which was reported by Diary of Injustice earlier this year, here : SHHH HAPPENED : Scotland’s new Information Commissioner to be Legal Complaints CEO Rosemary Agnew, rebuked FIVE TIMES for being ANTI-FOI.

It is of course very difficult to have confidence in public bodies or regulators who are required to comply with Freedom of Information legislation to take such overt steps to ensure important information such as how solicitors deal with complaints is withheld from the public by using what can only be described as unfair and foul means to inhibit transparency & accountability. However, Diary of Injustice will follow this research project and report issues & developments relating to it in the public interest.

PLOY TO AVOID FOI : THIRD PARTIES USED TO STASH DATA FROM PUBLIC GAZE

Allowing ‘third parties’ to collect, collate or hold data on behalf of another is a popular device used by many public bodies including most Scottish Government departments, local authorities.

The tactic is also commonly used throughout NHS Scotland, Scottish Water, environmental regulators, most Ombudsmen, the Scottish Parliament, and throughout the justice sector including the Scottish Court Service right up to even the Lord President’s Office in an effort to avoid information falling into public hands via FOI requests using exemptions under Section 3(2)(a)(i) the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, where data held by a third party on behalf of another is usually exempt from disclosure.

 

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Consumers ‘locked out of debate’ as Scottish Legal Complaints Commission carries out yet more research on how solicitors handle complaints

SLCCScottish Legal Complaints Commission commissions more research on complaints against solicitors. FOURTEEN MILLION POUNDS and FOUR YEARS LATER, with little to show for it in the way of struck-off ‘crooked lawyers’ or clients happy their complaints were fully resolved or fully compensated for their losses, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) has announced it is to embark on YET ANOTHER round of research into how Scottish solicitors ‘deal with complaints’ and ‘the subject of those complaints’ with the commissioning of a new research project, this time being handled by TNS Research International TNS-BMRB for an as yet undisclosed sum.

The research is to be conduced via telephone interviews between TNS Research and law firms, although there is apparently no obligation on solicitors to participate. Clients & consumers WILL NOT be asked for their input in the SLCC’s latest research.

Diary of Injustice recently reported on another SLCC research project into how the Law Society of Scotland handled conduct complaints, here : Protection Racket : SLCC’s ‘whitewash’ investigation of Law Society of Scotland’s conduct complaint process ends in failure to publish full report. However, the SLCC has so far refused to publish its full findings, limiting published information to a brief mention on it’s website.

Consumers of legal services in Scotland should not expect any improvement in how the SLCC address client complaints after the close of this research, as no improvements to complaints handling at the SLCC have taken place since October 2008 in spite of a number of costly research projects undertaken by the notoriously anti-client legal complaints watchdog whose board members branded financially ruined clients as “frequent flyers” and “chancers”.

An earlier research project commissioned by the SLCC in 2009 & carried out by the University of Manchester’s Law School in to the Law Society of Scotland’s Master Insurance Policy revealed clients had committed suicide because of the way they had been treated over claims made against negligent or corrupt solicitors. Diary of Injustice reported on the Master Policy research revelations here : Suicides, illness, broken families and ruined clients reveal true cost of Law Society’s Master Policy which ‘allows solicitors to sleep at night’

However, the SLCC has steadfastly refused to monitor individual claims to the Master Policy in spite of being asked by members of the public to do so, and no detectable changes have been made to how the SLCC deals with complaints made against negligent solicitors.

The SLCC’s announcement of the new research :

SLCC Research into complaint numbers and practitioners’ handling of complaints

As part of its oversight role the SLCC monitors complaints and identifies trends in practice, in relation to how practitioners deal with complaints and the subject of those complaints.  This includes undertaking research.  The latest research the SLCC is carrying out is into complaints made to, and dealt with, by the legal profession in Scotland.

The SLCC has commissioned TNS-BMRB to carry out research into:

the numbers of complaints which solicitors and advocates deal with on an annual basis, including those made directly to the practitioners which are never referred to the SLCC, and complaints which are made through the SLCC’s complaints process; and
whether the number and types of transactions carried out by practitioners have any correlation to numbers of complaints received by the SLCC.

During April and May 2012, TNS-BMRB will be contacting Client Relations Managers (CRMs) and advocates for information about their practice (where applicable) and complaints, including:

the size of the firm (e.g. number of partners and Scottish qualified staff practising in Scotland);
scope of practice areas;
the number of transactions, by practice area, the firm dealt with in the last 3 years;
the number of complaints received in the last 3 years, by practice area; and
from whom complaints originate (e.g. from clients or other third parties).

For CRMs, the research will be conducted via a telephone interview, which should take an average of 7 – 10 minutes.  A data sheet will be emailed in advance of the interview to allow CRMs time to retrieve records and to use that information as an aide memoire during the interview.  Advocates will be sent questionnaires to complete and return by post. The SLCC aims to collate information about general complaint handling and expertise employed by those who deal with complaints, and to identify whether there are any unmet training needs.

Practitioners will be asked about:

the processes and procedures in place to deal with and record complaints;
how complaints are disposed of;
the outcome of complaints (e.g. resolved, action taken where complainer remains dissatisfied); and
the level, frequency and type of training (either internally or externally) which they have received regarding complaint handling, how to improve services to prevent/avoid complaints and client care, and how this knowledge and training is disseminated to employees.

The telephone interviews will be carried out during the first few weeks of May 2012.  Advocates should receive their information pack in the first week of May.  Once all data has been obtained from the telephone interviews, the information will be collated, scrutinised and a report prepared by TNS-BMRB.  The SLCC will publish a report on its research in due course. The participation of practitioners is critical to the success of this research and to enabling the SLCC to provide advice, guidance and support in relation to complaints handling in the future which adds value to and reduces costs to the profession. Please refer also to the SLCC Strategy and Corporate Plan  and the SLCC Operational Plan.

There has been no media reaction as yet from the Law Society of Scotland to the SLCC’s latest research plan, however the Scottish Law Agents Society has condemned the SLCC’s complaints research proposal, also raising issues about the SLCC’s compliance with Freedom of Information legislation and pointing out solicitors are not required to hand out complaints information to the SLCC’s researchers. SLAS invited their members to submit their own reflections and suggestions in relation to this development, and issued a statement on their website, reprinted here : SLCC REQUEST FOR FIRMS’ COMPLAINTS INFORMATION

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has written to solicitors’ firms requesting disclosure of information regarding complaints made against firms by clients and, presumably, other interested parties. It is always a matter of great difficulty for solicitors to disclose to third parties information derived from their clients’ files. There is an instinctive reaction to treat clients’ information in the same way that clients’ money is treated and to regard it as not being at the disposal of third parties. There is also the issue as to the privacy of the solicitor’s own business information. When we sought the views of a number of experienced practitioners and advisers as to whether this information should be supplied to SLCC, the immediate response was unanimously negative. The following observations are offered:

1. The notice given by SLCC of this enquiry is insufficient to enable the solicitors’ profession to give collegiate consideration to and to make a considered decision upon the very important issue as to whether or not this sensitive information should be disclosed. 2. The cost of this exercise has to be borne by the solicitors’ profession and no information has been provided as to whether that cost has been estimated and as to whether the exercise will be cost effective. 3. No information is given as to whether or how SLCC has satisfied itself that this exercise falls within its statutory remit and its entitlement to expose solicitors to these costs. 3. The SLCC request does not advise as to whether or not there is any obligation on the part of solicitors to provide this information. 4. Information held by solicitors is private whereas information held by SLCC is subject to Freedom of Information enquiry, disclosure and publication. 5. Law Society officials recommend that firms disclose this information to SLCC. 6. Solicitors do not have any obligation to disclose this information to SLCC. 7. A better option might be for the information to be gathered within the profession where it would remain confidential and beyond the scope of Freedom of Information enquiry and only the conclusions be transmitted to SLCC. This might be achieved through the faculty structure or through the Scottish Law Agents Society. 8. Any research carried out at this stage might helpfully include enquiry into the extent to which the current complaints system accommodates abuse of process by persons who are dissatisfied with proper legal findings 9. The best initial response to this enquiry might be to ask for a further period of time to enable the foregoing issues to be considered and resolved.

 

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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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Tesco Law swapped for ‘Penman vote fiddle’ as Law Society’s support for legal services bill leads to solicitors civil war over Scots consumers access to justice

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland accused by its own members of not being democratic. SOLICITORS CLIENTS in Scotland have known for years, the Law Society of Scotland are, to put it mildly, a rather undemocratic organisation when it comes to taking into account the views of up to 5000 clients a year in dealing with regulatory issues & complaints against solicitors, with most complaints receiving what is commonly known as the ‘whitewash treatment’, where solicitors facing even the worst complaints would still remain in a job, no matter how severe the offence, or how severe the financial loss to consumers.

However, only now with the advent of a new legal services model for Scotland, where consumers may actually have the right to choose a non-lawyer to represent their legal interests, do solicitors find out the Law Society’s ‘undemocratic streak’ works both ways, after yesterday’s ‘vote nobbling’ of the Special General Meeting called by the Scottish Law Agents Society, where over 3000 ‘proxy votes’ cast by solicitors mainly it would seem, against the Law Society’s support of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, were put aside, because the Law Society knew it would lose the vote. So, its only taken since 1949 .. some sixty years late, for solicitors to come out and call their own governing body undemocratic, and unwilling to listen to its own membership. Well .. all I can say to that is welcome to the real world.

Clients have felt maligned by the the Law Society’s ‘lack of democracy’ for decades under the society’s self regulation of the legal profession, where clients who had the need to complain of poor service or otherwise from their legal representative consistently had their complaints, views, evidence and pleas for help cast aside by Drumsheugh Gardens time after time after time .. a well worn path by the Law Society, and now the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which continues to this day.

Tell me, members of the Scottish legal profession .. where were all your protests when clients suffered a raw deal at the hands of the Law Society ? Is that a pin I hear dropping ?

Seriously, over the years of writing my blog, some solicitors have come to me saying things along the lines of “all this must end”, “self regulation has to go”, “we know we would be better off without the Law Society of Scotland” … but not once have I seen headlines in the newspapers of something along the lines of “Solicitors challenge their own Law Society to give clients greater say over complaints”. If such a move had taken place, believe me, members of the legal profession, you would have had much greater respect from the Scots population many years ago.

Where only now, that certain quarters of the legal profession itself are realising their dominant control of Scotland’s legal services market is threatened, do we see solicitors protesting against their own governing body … not for the best interests of clients (although I’m sure some claim that is exactly what they have in mind) .. moreover the protests are about money, and the loss of it.

Its just not good enough. As solicitors, you all have yourselves to blame for the mess you are in, which ultimately clients will have to pay for.

Decades of confrontation with clients, decades of lies, deceit, decades of arm twisting Members of the Scottish Parliament, and their Members of Parliament at Westminster before them into watering down or killing off proposals to reform regulation of the legal profession, reform of rights of audience, reform of court procedures, reform of civil & criminal law, and now, reform of the public’s access to justice, has given the public a view of the legal profession which will never change .. that of a selfish, manipulative, corrupt, anti-client, anti-consumer monopolistic business who will stop at nothing to protect its own interests.

It could have been so different, if the profession’s membership had listened to its fee paying clients, consumers and well .. common sense, all those years ago, but even now, as solicitors I doubt you are at all interested in the views of the very consumers who pay your way and maintain your existence. When you are, then you can claim you have clients best interests at heart in your accusations against the Law Society … but until then, be honest, its only about money – not the client’s best interests …

However, even in today’s newspapers, the rights of consumers in this debate on legal services, still seem very far away, as the grim reading in today’s papers makes for the chance of passing legislation increasing Scots access to justice, where The Times reports that We got it very wrong, admits Law Society boss as ‘Tesco law’ founders, the Scotsman reporting : Law Society accused of ‘affront to democracy’ as voting postponed and the Herald reports : Blocking ‘Tesco law’ could cost Scotland £500 million, warns law society president

Ian SmartLaw Society’s Ian Smart – no nobbled vote here, its just we knew we’d lose it so we adjourned it ! In a release from the Law Society, its President Ian Smart continued the society’s line on the Legal Services bill, saying : “The Legal Services (Scotland) Bill proposes major changes. There is no disguising that there are differing opinions within the profession on this. However all sides must be happy that there is now a fuller engagement with these issues and it would be churlish not to acknowledge the contributions of the Scottish Law Agents in that process. It was clear that as the debate proceeded today, the two sides may not be as far apart as perceived prior to the meeting. The decision to adjourn was taken in the hope that we might yet reach agreement on a way forward that is acceptable to the vast majority of our membership.”

Clearly the Law Society knew it would lose the vote, so, simple way of dealing with that is to stop the vote. Yes, a good show for democracy there, but as consumers we have all experienced this same policy where the Law Society deals with thorny issues .. simply kill discussion, kill reforms, kill any chance of public debate.

Scotsman coverage of some of the stories relating to Andrew PenmanLaw Society insider James Ness, famed for nobbling a Committee decision to send Borders solicitor Andrew Penman to the SSDT announced the vote would be cancelled. The opposing view from the Scottish Law Agents Society, revealed, amazingly, that James Ness, whom readers may remember, represented Scotland’s most famous crooked lawyer, Andrew Penman, before the Complaints Committee back in 1994 and got him off the hook from some of the most serious complaints imaginable, announced the vote proposed by the SLAS would not go ahead. Well, there’s a surprise ! So the shadow of crooked Borders solicitor Andrew Penman is still playing a hand in obstructing consumer reforms to legal services, and at the same time cancelling a vote by lawyers against their own Law Society of Scotland.

From the Scottish Law Agents Society website : “Deputy Registrar, James Ness announced that the motion to adjourn the meeting, once seconded, would go straight to a vote without need for a direct negative or opportunity for any members to address the motion, either in support or in opposition. Further, the proxy votes would be excluded from the vote so that the motion would be decided by those personally present. A number of points of order were raised from the floor and, while these were courteously answered, matters proceeded as initially ordered by the Deputy Registrar and the whole meeting suddenly disappeared through a sort of metaphorical trapdoor.”

“It had been fairly clear from the outset that, with the Law Society Council in attendance, the number of persons present who opposed the motion substantially outnumbered those who supported it, in the proportion of about 2:1, just as it was also obvious from the the proxy records which had been duly prepared and circulated by the organisers, that the proxies in favour of the motion outnumbered those against, in the proportion of almost 3:1. It was no surprise, therefore, when the option was certain defeat if the issue went to a vote, that those who opposed the motion duly voted for the adjournment of the meeting. This led to some further points of order and indeed to some outspoken adverse criticisms of the process which were finally brought to a conclusion when SLAS President Scanlan delivered a polite acknowledgement and acceptance of the technical correctness of the outcome.”

You can read more about how James Ness aided Mr Penman, blocking his prosecution before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal, here : How Law Society’s ‘cancelled’ prosecution of Borders solicitor Andrew Penman ignited moves to reform regulation of Scotland’s crooked lawyers

Scottish GovernmentScottish Government – ever so eager to concede to lawyers demands over consumer rights. Next week, we can expect more arm twisting from the legal profession on the Scottish Government & Scottish Parliament, inevitably bringing further concessions on the Legal Services Bill, perhaps watering down completely any chance that Scots will gain the right to choose their own legal representatives from an expanded legal services market, rather than be forced to live under the current regime where the legal profession itself determines who among us has the right to pay through the nose for access to justice …

Is this fair to consumers ? It certainly is not …. but as we see from the vested interests at play here, consumers have little or no voice in this battle over legal services at all, as the legal profession have already secured their political allies, even in the form of the Justice Committee Convener himself, Bill Aitken who, by the sounds of his praise for Douglas Mill and solicitors in general, is apparently dead against any reforms to giving people control over their own legal affairs … perhaps, then, as someone pointed out earlier to me today, the Office of Fair Trading will have to step in and force a change on behalf of Scots consumers, to ensure at least someone, is protecting our interests in this debate on 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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Law Society SGM no-vote washout : Legal Services should be treated like any other business as consumers demand wider access to justice

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland’s meeting washed out with no vote. It will come as little surprise to most that today’s Special General Meeting of the Law Society of Scotland, called by the Scottish Law Agents Society to vote on the Law Society’s own ‘alleged’ support for the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, turned out to be less of a confrontation, rather more the expected fudge predicted by many, as well as a complete washout in terms of furthering consumer’s wider choice & access to legal services in Scotland.

Rather than the imminent break up of the Law Society, hoped for by some in the legal profession (and many outside it), the adjourned SGM at Murrayfield ended up agreeing to seek more talks on ‘building a consensus’ between those opposed to & those in favour of the Legal Services Bill’s proposals of alternative business structures, where law firms will be allowed via the new legislation, to bring in outside capital investment, and possibly end up being owned by non-lawyers (obviously a horrifying prospect to lawyers !).

Ian SmartLaw Society President Ian Smart – ‘not possible to reach agreement’. It was reported that discussions took place during an extended break and when the meeting resumed, Society President Ian Smart announced that although it was not possible to reach agreement on the spot, both sides were willing to keep talking to see if an agreed position could be found and the meeting was adjourned, amid protests the adjournment would remove the voices of around 3,000 solicitors who had sent in proxy forms to enable them to vote on the original SLAS motion, which called for the Law Society to change its stance over supporting alternative business structures (abs) in the Legal Services Bill – a stance the SLAS believe threatens independence of the legal profession.

The feeling remains however, in all these headlines on the battles between the Law Society and various factions of the legal profession, consumers are being left as spectators of what really amounts to a lot of red herrings, lots of smoke & mirrors, diversions from the real arguments, the real fears, the real worries of solicitors, that once legal services are available in Tesco, Morrisons, Asda, or even, Lidl, law firms might find their clients are off to the supermarket for a quick shop along with a quick house purchase, or quick, cheap, advice session on how to handle a legal issue, instead of engaging a solicitor and going through endless appointments, endless letters, endless court appearances, endless fee demands, endless complaints, and well, no end in sight to the issue which brought them into their solicitor’s office in the first place …

Cutting costs, giving consumers wider choice & rights to access justice & legal services is obviously a good thing for consumers. If solicitors are keen to compete with others offering legal services, then reducing fees, vastly increasing success rates & vastly decreasing the time it takes to conduct clients cases, or litigation, might help attract customers back to law firms. Competition is good .. and it might even raise standards in the profession, which the Law Society seem not to be able to achieve on its own.

It should come as no surprise however, that desperate times provoke desperate arguments from the legal profession (or at least its governing body) to maintain a grip over control of access to legal services in Scotland, with recently the Law Society’s President, Ian Smart arguing that legal services, and access to them, should be treated as much more than a business, as I reported last week : “We have also maintained that consumers must be protected and that access to justice is a priority – legal services is not and cannot be seen as a purely commercial activity.”

On closer inspection, Mr Smith’s argument holds little support outside the Law Society’s sphere of influence.

“Consumers must be protected”. Speaking from the consumer’s point of view … Yes, consumers do need to be protected, from you & your colleagues, Mr Smart. However, only a fully independent regulator of legal services in Scotland can protect consumers from legal services, because the Law Society of Scotland and now the Law Society ‘ infected’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission are just not up to the job.

“Access to justice is a priority”. No its not. It should be, but its not, not anyway while the current legal services model exists its not. Access to justice under the current system, where solicitors & law firms dominate the legal services market is only granted to clients or consumers if a solicitor thinks they have a chance of making money out of their case, not just because someone comes through the door of a solicitor’s office and claims their rights have been violated, or they need to take legal action to resolve a difficulty, injury, issue of negligence, or require to be helped in some other way.

Access to justice in all of those cases, and indeed any imaginable instance, is only a priority if the solicitor thinks so, and justification for taking the client’s issue further will inevitably be judged on a commercial basis. No chance of making money out of you ? Then the solicitor cannot or will not undertake the work. Not much of a priority of access to justice there …

“Legal Services is not and cannot be seen as a purely commercial activity”. Just why is that ? Do law firms offer legal services simply out of goodwill and without any regard to commercial factors and with no motive other than to serve the greater community at large, represent the interests of justice and fight vigorously for the rights of individuals ? Obviously not. Going to a lawyer and accessing legal services is (or at least should be) as commercial an activity as going to the post office to buy a stamp, or buying a train ticket and travelling from A to B.

Legal Services is a business, Mr Smart. Get over it.

However, until we hear the issue of consumer’s best interests being talked about in this debate, you can be sure the consumer & fee paying client, will always come last to the interests of the legal profession … leading to more concessions to the Law Society from the Scottish Government in the weeks to come as the Legal Services Bill travels through the Scottish Parliament.

Funnily enough, the Law Society will then claim it was their work which ‘won’ the even more yet-to-announced, well rehearsed ‘concessions’ from the Scottish Government, and thus maintain its existence to fight another day ….

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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