Perceptions and priorities
How did solicitors see the Law Society of Scotland performing during 2015, and what are their priorities looking ahead? We report on the latest independent survey of members’ attitudes
Ongoing shifts in the legal services marketplace and justice system due to legislative reforms, commercial pressures and reductions in public spending continued to present Scotland’s solicitors with a variety of opportunities and challenges during 2015. So how did they view the past year? And how well did the Society respond to their needs? The Society’s 2015 survey of members identified both consistent trends and new ways of thinking.
With optimism increasing marginally, up to 62% from 60% – the latter figure a jump from 53% in 2013 – Society chief executive Lorna Jack paid tribute to members’ increasingly positive approach during a period of such extensive and rapid change. The Society’s own response to the demands facing the legal sector was to launch an ambitious new five-year strategy, Leading Legal Excellence, which sets the bold aim of being a world-class professional body.
“It’s very encouraging to see an increase in optimism among our members,” Jack commented. “That’s a great basis for us to start moving forward with high ambition for the Scottish solicitors’ profession. Our strategy of driving towards excellence is achievable and believable, certainly by our members. For the first time, our survey asked if membership of the Society was recognised globally as a rigorous and valued professional accreditation, and 79% of those who took part agreed that it was – and that is before we have even taken any sustained action on our strategy. We will now be able to track the responses to this question in particular and measure how we progress up to 2020. The input of members will be vital in ensuring we deliver our strategy.”
But the survey explored much more than members’ views on the new strategy, as the Society’s head of marketing, Angus Maclauchlan, explains. “This is the fourth year of our annual member survey. We carried it out to get an up-to-date picture of what members are thinking. Participants commented not only on wider issues but also on what the Society’s priorities should be, how much they know about us, the quality of our communication and the services we provide. A big thanks to all those who took part – we very much appreciate members giving up their time to contribute to the survey.
“Overall, it is a good report and members’ perceptions of the Society are largely positive. The results are generally consistent with previous years. We are not far away from doing what members expect, but that doesn’t mean we should be complacent.”
The survey of a representative sample of more than 500 solicitors from different sectors of the profession was carried out by Ipsos MORI. Among key findings, 85% of respondents agreed that the Society was an effective regulator of the solicitor profession, which is particularly reassuring when the Society’s regulatory role was regarded as its most important function, Maclauchlan says.
“Members consistently rate our regulatory role as the most significant function of the Society and, once again, the areas of our work deemed the highest priorities included intervening in firms where a critical failure has been identified (81%), setting standards for solicitors and updating practice rules (72%), investigating conduct complaints against solicitors and prosecuting cases to the Discipline Tribunal (69%), and inspecting firms to ensure compliance with accounting rules (60%). It is encouraging that members believe we are delivering the functions they consider to be most important.”
While other findings were generally positive – for instance, 80% considered the Society helpful and approachable and 74% that it was effective at leading and supporting the profession – fewer thought it was focused on the issues that affect individual solicitors (65%). In response, the Society recognises that more work needs to be done in communicating the range of services available to members. Likewise, the Society must continue to respond to the big issues facing solicitors, identified in the survey as legal aid cuts and reform, keeping up to date with changes in legislation, and heavy workloads.
Further findings include:
- 95% of respondents agreed that the Society should continue to be responsible for representation, support and regulation of solicitors.
- Satisfaction with communication was high – 81% said they were kept well informed with accurate and reliable information by the Society, while 66% believed the Society seeks members’ views before making decisions that affect the profession.
- The Journal was regarded as a good quality magazine by 91% of respondents, while 62% read half or more of each issue.
- Awareness of the Society’s advertising campaigns was high – 94% had read, seen or heard about the online practising certificate renewal system and 91% about the smartcard project.
- Satisfaction with the Professional Practice team was broadly in line with previous years on a number of measures.
- Awareness and use of Update training and events was consistently high, and helpful information was gathered about the training the Society could provide to help solicitors develop their careers.
Looking ahead, members were asked about a number of political policy areas. A total of 60% disagreed with the UK Government’s plan to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, a position broadly echoed in the priorities identified by the Society for both the UK and Scottish Governments. Large numbers also believed that the Scottish Government’s policy on legal aid risks undermining access to justice for the poorest in society (78%), and backed increasing legal aid rates (77%).
The benefits of, and strong business case for, equality and diversity were also recognised in the survey. Rob Marrs, the Society’s head of education, explains: “The Society has increased its emphasis on equality and diversity over the last 12 months and this seems to be supported by the profession, with nearly 70% wanting us to undertake more research regarding the gender pay gap. It was also good to see a visible awareness of a link between organisations having a good equality and diversity strategy and the attraction of talent. We strongly believe that an equal and diverse workforce has clear business benefits – it is great that 56% of respondents agreed. We hope that by making this argument strongly alongside its champions in the profession, we will see more people agreeing in the future.”
For more results from the 2015 survey of members, go to www.lawscot.org.uk/media/769007/
Craig Watson is a freelance writer with a special interest in legal matters