Professional Practice - advising the advisers
28 Apr 17
Scottish solicitors help their clients through some of the most momentous occasions of their lives, personal or professional, good or bad. But where do solicitors turn for support? Prof Prac, that's where.
Fiona Robb, Director of Professional Practice at the Law Society of Scotland, talks us through the member services provided by the Prof Prac team.
What is your role at the Law Society of Scotland?
As Director of Professional Practice, I manage a team of three senior solicitors and we are about to be joined by a registered paralegal. The team sits within the Member Services directorate and offers free and confidential advice and information to our members. We have all been in private practice, so we understand the pressures. It is not our role to offer advice on points of law, but we can advise on rules, guidance and ethical matters. The diversity and complexity of our conversations is often challenging, but we have a strong sense of team spirit and no two days are the same.
Tell us a bit about your career so far and what inspired you to join the Society?
I studied in law in Aberdeen and did my diploma in Edinburgh before becoming a personal injury and professional negligence litigator for Anderson Strathern and then Dundas & Wilson (now CMS).
Having built up a solid body of experience in private practice, I became aware of a gap in my development which would be bridged by a broader understanding of the legal framework, our regulatory body and essentially, what goes on behind the scenes.
I also discovered the Society’s progressive approach as employers, and as a working parent the flexible working opportunities were enough to confirm my next career move.
I first joined the Society as a complaints investigator in 2003 and moved into Professional Practice a couple of years later. I was excited to be appointed Director in 2016.
Have your perceptions of the Law Society changed since you started?
I think my perceptions have changed, but mostly in line with how the Society has changed. The way in which we support our members has undergone a fairly dramatic transformation in recent years. We are the profession’s regulatory body and that informs much of what we do as an organisation, but we are much more customer focused and member led in terms of the services we offer and provide. The changes have definitely been for the better.
What do you see as the main challenges currently facing the profession?
Some legal aid rates have been frozen for 25 years, which means that in real terms Scottish solicitors are struggling to make a viable business case to offer their clients much needed legal aid. The implications are alarming for the profession, the public and access to justice.
Solicitors have embraced technical and digital ways of working, but the challenge for our members is to stay one step ahead of cybercrime to outmanoeuvre the fraudsters.
Talking to solicitors, it is clear that none of us are comfortable with the current period of political uncertainty. As a profession, we have proven to be fairly adaptable to change, but it is the ambiguity which makes planning for change difficult. No doubt many will approach this challenge as an opportunity and choose to survive and thrive. Interesting times!
How does your team support Scottish solicitors?
The team has a diverse range of skills and experience. With 10 years in private practice under her belt, Gillian is the most recent addition to our team and has fitted in seamlessly. Gillian specialises in conveyancing and work under the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000. Russell worked in commercial litigation and employment law for over 20 years and has spent time as a staff partner and a money laundering reporting officer. Matthew is our international expert and his background includes cross-border and in-house experience. He also worked on our Policy team for several years before joining Professional Practice.
While our specialisms are a mixed bag, we share a drive to support the Scottish legal community whether they are working as paralegals, in private practice or in-house.
Are you and your team working on anything new in terms of member services?
We are constantly looking at new and better ways to support our members, but one specific product we are working on is a structured dispute resolution service. We will set up a Society panel of approved solicitor arbitrators and without going into too much detail, the net result of this new slicker process will be an improved user experience and additional revenue for our members. Alternative dispute resolution is a growth area and we want to assist members who obtain specialist accreditation seeing a return on their investment. Watch this space.
What would you say to someone starting out in a career in law?
I am really proud of being a Scottish solicitor – and you should be too. We have an important role to play in Scottish families, communities, commerce and public bodies. Remember you can steer your career in the direction suited to your talents and interests. There is a vast range of career opportunities open to Scottish solicitors and your PC is held in high regard outwith Scotland too – our members based in London alone account for nearly 4% of our total population. Be proud. The world is your oyster.
Finally, what keeps you occupied outside of work?
Where do I start? I am a lotus posing yoga lover, a Cava, Shiraz and Sauvignon slurper, and a fair weather skier, mum of two and golf widow endlessly endeavouring to pack it all in. Does anyone else notice the days getting shorter?
You can find out more about the Professional Practice team and the service they provide on the Law Society of Scotland website.