Legal: Beneath the tweets

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OUR monthly column from Law Society of Scotland director Neil Stevenson explains the stories behind some of his tweets

Help @lawscot create an accurate #ProfileOfProfession

As part of the publicity around our current equality census, we have been

putting out a series of tweets, using #ProfileOfProfession hash tag, each one containing a bullet point fact from previous research.

Some have received a

lot of comment, from more obscure facts (there are

more Buddhist lawyers in Scotland than Sikhs and Hindus combined) to more worrying ones (the nine themes of bullying clearly still visible in the profession, including ‘training by humiliation’).

The biggest debate has been on whether 42.5 hours per week really was ‘typical’ for a lawyer, with many thinking that seems low. We have really solid, and independently verified, data but so often the response is ‘that can’t be right’.

Even when asking audiences how many lawyers there are in Scotland I’ve had guesses ranging from 3,000 to 50,000. Perception matters if you are trying to fix things.

The new data will help us continue tackle myths but will also help people recognise there are issues to be addressed and further change to make.

Please help us by submitting your questionnaire.

Separate representation #SepRep consultation launched

A consultation is to be launched tomorrow which will see solicitors, mortgage lenders and the public asked for their views on changes to how lawyers represent parties in a conveyancing transaction.

The proposal on the table is to ensure clients buying a house receive truly independent advice and stop their solicitor also acting for the mortgage provider. Consultations on rule changes sometimes appear technical and not of immediate importance to busy practitioners but this decision could end up affecting every house purchase in Scotland where there’s a mortgage involved.

It comes at a time when the market is still depressed and when other changes are about to kick in (for example, e-missives being introduced by legislation allowing for an online process from start to finish).

Although rarely allowed to say so in public, my view is that if you don’t get involved you can’t later moan at the outcome. Every member is able to contribute to the debate, and ultimately vote on the rule at SGM (by proxy, if you can’t attend). The consultation will be available to all on our website.

#protestforjustice continues as court closures announced

Last Tuesday the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament approved the closure of 17 courts in Scotland, in what we see as a damaging blow to local access to justice. We believe our lobbying was one factor in making this such a close vote (5/4) but in these days of majority government it is tough to influence a change in direction. Late in the day it was promised that video conferencing suites would be introduced to assist local access, yet this had not been covered in detail in any of the papers released, nor was there a costed proposal. Will civil witnesses go to a police station to use this? Or will new premises need to be rented? What will these look like? You presumably need a receptionist? And technical operator? A waiting room? Toilets? Security, if witnesses from either side are to be there? Will translators sit with the witness or in the court, or both? We support remote access where appropriate, but without detailed costings or any documented proposal in the public domain it is hard to establish whether this is a well thought out plan by Scottish Court Service and not simply something thrown on the negotiating table to ease consciences.

• Neil Stevenson regularly tweets (@StevensonLaw) with his personal views on issues in the legal sector. Follow all The Scotsman’s legal news on Twitter @scotsmanlaw

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