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Journal reader survey feedback report

12 December 16

A roundup of the responses to the recent online poll, with our observations on some of the points made by those who took the trouble to provide comment

by Peter Nicholson

While the number of respondents to the 2016 Journal was in the hundreds rather than thousands, so cannot be guaranteed to be representative of the whole profession, the results show a level of consistency with previous surveys so we feel reasonably confident in reporting on the main picture that emerges.

Why are we here?

Readers continue to rely on the Journal to keep them up to date with what is happening. Thus just under 85% say it has a “very” or “quite” important role in keeping them up to date with legal changes, 91.5% say the same about developments in the legal profession, and nearly 82% agree as respects Law Society of Scotland matters. When asked how well it achieves these objectives, nearly 77% say it carries useful and relevant legal briefings (17% are neutral), 75% that it has good information and advice on professional matters (17.5% are neutral), and 70% that it is a good source of information on the Society (26% neutral).

Comments offered included:

  • “I'd like to see more debate.”
  • “Quite often I think there is more relevance placed on commercial and criminal matters than other general practice issues.”
  • “The Journal could help further in the Law Society's goal of transparency. There might be a case for more articles from academia... Commentary on new Scottish legislation could be beefed up. There is very little critical analysis of the profession in Scotland which has gone through enormous change in the last 10 years.”
  • “Unless you work in private practice doing generally chamber work or litigation (non-commercial) it is of very little relevance.”
  • “I think it must decide – is it a journal or magazine?”
  • “Generally, the Journal leans towards small high street practitioners and has nothing of interest to those of us in larger firms with a commercial focus."
  • “I always read the Journal as I consider it to be relevant, interesting, topical and varied in content.”
  • “Understandably enough the Journal focuses on Scots law, and Scottish angles on UK/EU Law. Since I don't work in Scotland that isn't as much use to me as more general information websites published by the big law firms...”
  • “The Journal has become a lightweight magazine with more adverts than contents with most articles being about self promotion than insight.”
  • “I fear that a large part of the Journal is now less a professional journal and more a general interest magazine, trying to cater to too wide an audience rather than the professional solicitors in practice who it should be targeting.”
  • “I don't think that the Journal has the prestige that it should have and I don't think its content is engaging enough. Part of that problem will be that those in the profession (myself included) do not contribute to the content. The massive push towards continually billing more and carrying out more business development does not leave any room for wider professional development by writing in the Journal...”
  • “There is a suspicion that true debate is suppressed on controversial matters for reasons of political correctness and the Law Society's desire to be a player in Civic Scotland rather than a representative of its members' interests.”
  • “I think the Journal should be a magazine for Scottish lawyers, but the magazine need not solely be about the law or the profession – it should be about those people who are solicitors.”
  • “The Journal can at times be focused on the bigger firms with small firms often ignored.”

It would be fair to say that the magazine could do with more points of debate, and we will attempt to action this. At the same time the reader who acknowledged the problem caused by the pressures of billing and professional development was probably close to the mark, and we are certainly not in a position, as another reader requested, to publish a more extensive letters page. Not until more people write in, anyway!

The divergent views continue on whether the Journal is more biased towards bigger or smaller firms. It is true that more contributors come from bigger firms, but we encourage articles that we hope will have a broader appeal – more specialist contributions, if received, have an outlet online.

We also press contributors to undertake analysis as well as description of a new case or statute, though some provide more than others in this respect. But our audience is very much the solicitors' profession, even if the website is read more widely, and it is a little surprising that the content should be described as a “general interest magazine”.

Is the magazine too gentle on the Law Society of Scotland? While it should be restated that it is not based at the Society and has editorial independence, it is right that the Journal should carry information about new developments and initiatives of the Society on behalf of its members. It is also fair to say that seeing the Society close up, the view is of an organisation – and staff – genuinely trying to do their best for the profession. We have questioned the Society's approach at times, and if members come to us with their grumbles, as for example over the decision to end Marsh's contract as Master Policy brokers, we give them a platform for their views, so please share your concerns if you have something that you feel should be aired. We can withhold personal details if you don't want to put your head above the parapet publicly.

With the Society we are looking at how to make the magazine more relevant to those working outside Scotland, though suspect there are no easy answers here, given the number of competing interests within the profession, and the pressures of space and resources.

Do the adverts detract from the magazine? The Journal has always carried advertising, and it's the reason why providing the Journal has little or no effect on the practising certificate fee, so we suggest it should be seen in that light. In reply to the occasional comment regarding the Registers of Scotland page, that also is paid advertising.

Agree/disagree?

The survey asked readers whether they agreed or disagreed (or neither) with a series of statements.
“Overall, the quality of the Journal is high” won 72% agreement, 6% disagreement, with 22% neutral. The equivalent figures for “Articles give me good information” were 73% agree, 7% disagree and 20% neutral; for “You can trust what you read in the Journal”, 74% agree, 3% disagree and 23% neutral; and for “I regularly find something of interest”, 67% agree, 10% disagree and 23% neutral.

The neutral scores were higher for “The Journal gives a fair and balanced account of events and issues” (58% agree; 6% disagree; 36% neutral); “The Journal's design is attractive” (53% agree; 9% disagree; 38% neutral); and “The Journal is useful to me in my work” (53% agree; 16% disagree; 31% neutral).

A selection of comments here:

  • “Content of Journal is invariably wide, highly topical and well considered.”
  • “Please do keep going. It is a high quality production and it is more pressure of work that means I do not read cover to cover than the content (I am sorry to say).”
  • “I dislike the current format and find it off-putting.”
  • “I would say I occasionally find something of interest but most of the content isn't immediately relevant to my day to day role so articles are usually just of general interest.”
  • “The only slight downside is that I feel the Journal isn't comprehensive enough in its coverage of new legal developments. However, I find the quality of the articles excellent in terms of its existing coverage.”
  • “When I say disagree to there being a fair and balanced account of events and issues – the only reason for saying that is I sometimes find it a little too balanced – which can actually not then give a fair and balanced account. Particularly on Law Society issues. You can be objective and impartial whilst being highly critical.” [Discuss!]

And on “How relevant is the Journal to you personally?”:

  • “I think it has got better over the years – most of the time it seemed to be aimed at sole practitioners – it is getting more commercial in its outlook and the recent coverage of women in law has been interesting.”
  • “I like to hear about the diverse types of practice lawyers have and current and future trends but more from the point of view of the practitioner than just the heads of the big firms.”
  • “It would be helpful if there was less emphasis on big firms and more articles relevant to the majority of the profession in smaller firms.”
  • “The Journal is very poor in its coverage of the development of the UK profession... Overall the Journal appears to be too connected to the Law Society... The Journal does not engage in any serious journalism... I think the Journal needs to get out of Edinburgh more and concentrate on business and law issues.”

Taking the last comments first, again due to resources, the magazine has to focus either on journalism-type work or on professional briefing and development; it can't do both, and being a monthly title and having regard to the type of content that the majority of readers appear to want from it, we think it has to retain that sort of focus.

We will attempt to develop more content taking a wider, UK, focus. This has not been ignored over the years, especially as the ABS developments began to gather speed, but perhaps the balance could be improved now.

A redesign is likely during 2017 and we will use the opportunity to take a fresh look at the magazine content at that point.

Paper or online?

Another divergence of views comes over whether the Journal should be available in both paper and online format. There are many who prefer paper (some because they are always looking at screens), and regard email alerts and the like as unwanted intrusions; equally there are a fair number who question the value of continuing with the paper version. We believe we should continue to provide both formats as long as there is a significant demand for each.

Like the magazine, the website is due a refresh in the reasonably near future and we will take into consideration any comments directed towards how it looks and feels.

Love them or hate them...

Without wishing to embark on some kind of Strictly Come Dancing-type elimination contest, we asked whether there was anything readers would like to see added to or deleted from the regular magazine content.

Additions requested included:

  • “I would like to see some articles from ordinary lawyers about their work and the changes they have seen and their ideas for the future.”
  • “More on international /cross border aspects.”
  • “Much more private client content should be added.” [This comment was reflected in others, and we will look at addressing this.]
  • “Articles of more relevance to commercial/corporate work; less 'comment' and debate on the same topics.”
  • “I think there should be more articles or features on: Ordinary members and how they balance being in the profession and having a personal life; how they started off; professional achievements etc; diversity and the gender pay gap...; social mobility within the legal profession (updates on the current initiatives...)”.
  • “In 40 years in the profession I have learned that you can get something 99% right and the blunder will slip through on the other 1%. Could readers be invited to give other readers the benefit of hindsight. If it saved someone else from making the same blunder it might benefit risk management.” [Any takers?]
  • “Less focus on Scottish property law and maybe a bit more on Scotland's corporate/financial sector + more news from Scottish solicitors working abroad.”
  • “Everyone likes a bit of gossip/informal chat.”
  • “Bring back the crossword!”
  • “More coverage on young lawyers and articles by them rather than old lawyers.” [How old is old? Does this comment really reflect the age profile of most issues?]

Stephen Gold's column and Ask Ash both have their passionate supporters, and vehement opponents. Some people think “Ash” has a gender bias or sexist tone, which is curious given that our adviser is female. Another reader comments: “I am never quite sure if it is meant to be taken seriously? If so, that is a matter of concern.” We are indeed assured that the case studies are real, or based on real occurrences!

We thank all those who took the time to comment. We will never be able to accommodate everyone's preferences, but we will certainly pay attention to any emerging trends in planning for the future of the Journal.

And perhaps anyone who has read this report might be encouraged to consider whether they too might be able to contribute some copy that would satisfy one or more of the desires expressed. We would love to hear from you.

 

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