Letter: Is the Law Society meeting the standards it sets for the profession?
In the second of two letters, retired solicitor Chris Forrest details his experiences with the Law Society of Scotland.
In my last letter I narrated the circumstances giving rise to my complaints to SLCC which arose from my perceived conduct of the Director of Regulation at the Law Society and how two of my complaints having been referred to the Law Society for investigation, had disclosed the ineptitude and procrastination of the Society in formulating a strategy of how to deal with such an investigation.
This is all despite them having knowledge of the complaints, served on their director a year past February, and it would seem that it was only when these complaints were referred to them for investigation last November did the Society stir themselves to do something about it.
What they did then was to seek the advice of “independent solicitors”. That advice has not been disclosed, but in essence the Society advised me that they intended to ask the English SRA to investigate and prepare a recommendation for the regulatory committee. They also advised: “We will obtain external legal advice before the recommendation and any supplementary recommendation are sent to you and the solicitor [for comment].”
I was also advised of other proposed procedural measures and was asked if I had any queries. I responded asking if they had considered asking a retired senator, sheriff or a senior counsel to conduct such an investigation on the basis that they, unlike the SRA, were versed in Scots law, could forensically consider the evidence and produce recommendations more efficiently and quickly that the SRA and that would also dispense with what some might interpret as “unwarranted interference” from the Society’s own solicitors.
In their reply my suggestion about such appointments was ignored and they refuted my concerns about the possible perception of unwarranted interference on the basis that they considered that “appointing… external Scottish solicitors to provide advice ensures a robust and fair recommendation is made which is sufficiently independent from LSS”.
It transpires that in any event this had been a total waste of my time as further enquiry has revealed that the SRA had already been approached by the Society before I was even told of their intention to do so, and I was in fact being presented with a fait accompli.
I am now, some two months on, advised by the Society that the SRA does not want to become involved and, surprise, surprise there is no “Plan B” but that they are now following my suggested course of action and have instructed senior counsel to investigate and prepare recommendations. It’s taken them five months since receiving the papers from SLCC to get to this point.
The lack of foresight by senior leadership is a disgrace. They have known since February 2022 that this investigation was a distinct probability and, at the same time, that their own solicitor did not follow their instructions regarding the objections to the account of expenses lodged with the auditor.
You might think that that alone would inevitably give rise to a conduct complaint from them to SLCC most probably followed by a referral to investigate which clearly they could not undertake themselves.
You might think that it was not beyond the wit of at least one of them that steps should be taken then to ensure that procedures were in place to cover either or both before any such matter was remitted to them for investigation. Clearly not.
You might also think that the Society also might want to know why their fiscal behaved as he did but here we are 27 months further on from the taxation and no explanations have been forthcoming from the Society as to how or why this could have happened and that despite my being advised in April 2022 from the CEO of the Society that “the points of objection did not accurately reflect the Society’s position or the Society’s instructions… I am still [my emphasis] investigating how this came to be the position”.
Really! If that had been you or I we would have had 28 days to provide an explanation which failing the start of a formal complaint process would have swiftly followed.
So you might also ask: surely a complaint about their fiscal’s conduct been made by the Society to SLCC. None has.
These are the very people responsible for your Regulations, who police your conduct and prosecute your transgressions! Yet again, that has all the hallmarks of a cover-up.
All this inevitably raises questions as to why the Society have failed to address these two issues with the vigour demanded of a Regulator and regrettably the first answer that springs to mind is that it is because they both involve two of their own.
If I am correct then that is reprehensible and inevitability would raise questions about the integrity and conduct of those involved. Unfortunately however, such persons are not subject to the Conduct Rules applicable to the profession they regulate. What we have is an organisation that, at a senior level, is less than transparent in its dealings, evasive in its responses to direct questions, dilatory, inept and lacking in integrity, in the fullest meaning of that word.
They state that the “set the standards which practicing solicitors must meet” but in my experience they don’t meet those standards themselves. There is no accountability and there is one set of rules for us and another for them.
Of course they don’t necessarily all need to be solicitors, but they all do need to share our values and our ethics, and to do that, they need to be subject to our Conduct Rules so that when things go wrong, as they inevitably will, they can properly be held to account.
Given my experiences with the Society over the last two years the following needs to happen:
- all senior roles within the Society need to be contractually bound by the Conduct Rules if they are not otherwise so bound by virtue of being enrolled solicitors, and
- the investigation of conduct complaints against solicitor employees of the Society and non-solicitor employees subject to the Conduct Rules, should be carried out by SLCC.