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20 March 17

Report on the latest independent survey of members’ views of and priorities for the Law Society of Scotland, including its dual regulatory and representative functions

by Craig Watson

The effective regulation of the profession remains the highest priority for Scotland’s solicitors. But ongoing issues over legal aid funding, and the new challenges posed by Brexit, are also important concerns, according to the Society’s latest survey of members.

Society President Eilidh Wiseman explains that the survey, carried out by Ipsos MORI at the end of 2016, explored solicitors’ views on a range of issues. She said: “In many ways, the profession has remained fairly consistent in their views. For instance, previous surveys have shown that our regulatory role is regarded as our most significant function and, once again, those areas of our work were deemed the highest priorities.

“However, it is clear that responding to the impact of Brexit and other key political issues – particularly on legal aid policy – are also considered important priorities by solicitors from across all sections of the profession.”

Intervention is key

Among the headline findings, the in-depth telephone survey of 542 respondents showed that members thought the Society should step in when necessary, with 88% believing intervention in firms where a critical failure has been identified was important. Other key areas for regulation included inspecting firms to ensure compliance with accounting rules (74%); setting standards for solicitors and updating practice rules (70%); and investigating conduct complaints against solicitors and prosecuting cases before the Discipline Tribunal (66%).

In response to new questions on the UK Government’s withdrawal negotiations with the European Union, 96% highlighted freedom, security and justice as important.

Ensuring consistent application of the law, and recognition and enforcement of citizens’ rights, were also ranked as important by more than 90% of respondents, while 84% ranked the economic impact on members and continued professional recognition with the EU as important issues for the Society to prioritise.

Defend legal aid

As with previous years, protecting the legal aid budget has remained an issue, particularly among high street firms. A total of 60% of high street practitioners said protecting the legal aid budget and representing solicitors working in legal aid should be a high priority for the Society.

Across the wider profession, 80% of all respondents – up slightly from 78% – believed that the Scottish Government’s policy on legal aid risks undermining access to justice for the poorest in society, and 77% backed increasing legal aid rates. The figures illustrate the profession’s ongoing concerns about threats to the sustainability of the legal aid system. Last month, the Society published an independent report, The Financial Health of Legal Aid Firms in Scotland (Journal, February 2017, 20), which showed that some firms are carrying out legal aid work at a loss and are at serious risk of being unable to offer legal aid work.

Support services

More positively, members believe the Society keeps them well informed with accurate and reliable information (91%), and satisfaction rates with the Society’s Professional Practice team have risen to 76%, with members who had contacted the helpline saying they were satisfied or very satisfied with the helpfulness of the team.

Almost all trainees, at 90%, believed that providing them with assistance at the beginning and throughout their traineeship should be a priority for the Society, with 78% satisfied with the help they had received. Of the wider profession, 92% believed that supporting trainees, newly qualified solicitors and those with an interest in a career in law, was a priority.

Alan McCreadie, head of research at the Society, said the survey was broadly positive about the Society’s work and functions.

He commented: “There was considerable support for the Society continuing to represent, support and regulate the profession, at 93%, while 85% of respondents agreed both that it was an effective regulator and that membership of the Society is recognised globally as a rigorous and valued professional accreditation, the latter figure up from 79% since the question was first asked last year.

“Overall, the findings are positive. It is a good snapshot of where the profession is right now, and the consistently high figures for the Society’s performance suggest that, while there is always more for us to do, we are largely meeting the needs of our members and providing the services and support they require.”

For more information on the 2016 survey of members, go to www.lawscot.org.uk/memberreseach 
To see more statistics from the magazine, click here.

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