The annual report of the Discipline Tribunal shows the priority the Society attaches to regulation, but we can all be active also in highlighting the positive contribution solicitors make to society
Greetings from beautiful Craobh Haven! I’m typing this month’s Journal column on a laptop perched on my knee in the back of a car travelling from Lochgilphead to Oban, two of the destinations on this month’s local faculty engagement programme. It has to be said that the scenery is proving to be a bit of a distraction.
Over the next three weeks, Society Vice President Eilidh Wiseman and I, between us, will also have the pleasure of meeting members in Fort William, Dumbarton, Greenock, Lanark, Wick, Kilmarnock, Montrose, Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline. There has also been a recent visit to Melrose, and an event in our new office where Edinburgh solicitors got the chance to meet their Law Society Council members who cover the Edinburgh constituency. It really is invaluable to meet solicitors on their home turf to talk about local issues and to take the opportunity to flag up emerging trends in the legal services market. So thanks to all who attended those meetings – it was a pleasure to spend time with you all.
Through speaking to members and from our annual member research, carried out by Ipsos MORI, we know that solicitors think our regulatory functions should be a high priority for us. And they are. The Society prosecuted 31 cases of misconduct before the independent Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) in 2014-2015, details of which are outlined in the Tribunal’s recently published annual report. The Tribunal heard and made decisions on 40 cases, including appeal cases. It made 25 findings of professional misconduct. A total of eight solicitors were struck off and can no longer practise. One solicitor was suspended and a further seven had their practising certificates restricted. A total of 11 solicitors were censured or censured and fined. Compensation was awarded in five cases.
It is, of course, very important that clients can be confident in raising concerns and that any complaint or matter of professional misconduct will be dealt with appropriately on those few occasions when things go wrong. We have been effective in our work to identify where solicitors have not met the standards required of them, for example if problems are exposed at a firm following a Society inspection, and have also reduced the time taken to investigate conduct complaints year on year. It is also important to recognise that the vast majority of transactions and cases go well. The most recent research by Ipsos MORI showed that 90% of Scottish solicitors’ clients were satisfied with the service they received.
Spread the good news
It was observed at a recent Faculty meeting that our MSPs rarely hear good news stories about solicitors. Their main exposure to legal services may be when constituents approach them with complaints. It is important that those who seek to represent us appreciate the essential service that solicitors provide to business and to consumers, and acknowledge the contribution that individual solicitors and law firms make to the Scottish economy and to the wellbeing of the people of Scotland. I would encourage you to get that message out and for local faculties to have regular engagement with their local MSPs.
The Society’s Annual Report 2015 has also recently been published and is available on our website. It’s worth a quick read if you are interested in finding out more about the profession or the work of your professional body. For example, the number of members working outside Scotland has increased by 14% in the past year, while overall nearly two-thirds of newly qualified solicitors are female. We have also recently published 12 online guides, available on our website, for new parents going on maternity/paternity or adoption leave and their line managers. The guides feature real-life case studies from solicitors and are full of ideas on how best to manage the return to work. We have received excellent feedback from members on the content of these guides. I hope you find them useful.
Christine McLintock is President of the Law Society of Scotland – firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Christinemclint