Eilidh Wiseman: Freedom, security and justice top solicitors’ list

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The findings of the most recent survey of the Law Society’s members have highlighted the impact of Brexit on the law and legal practice as a key issue for Scottish solicitors.

The vast majority of the survey group, at 96 per cent, cited freedom, security and justice as important to the UK government’s withdrawal negotiations with the European Union when they were polled last year.

Most of the respondents, at 94 per cent, believed that ensuring consistent application of the law along with recognition and enforcement of citizens’ rights was important. For 90 per cent of those surveyed immigration, residence, citizenship and employment status were also important, while 84 per cent ranked the economic impact of Brexit on solicitors and their continued professional recognition within the EU as important issues for the Law Society to prioritise as part of its work.

We will continue to contribute to the discussions on Brexit as the UK government’s negotiations with the EU develop following the triggering of article 50 last Wednesday and we will work to ensure that our members are kept informed.

The research, carried out by Ipsos MORI in December 2016, was wide-ranging and in addition to Brexit, covered solicitors’ views on legal aid, regulation, law reform and professional practice, among other topics.

The findings showed the ongoing concern about legal aid system in Scotland. Across the wider profession, 80 per cent of all respondents – up slightly from 78 per cent in the previous year’s survey – believed that the Scottish Government’s policy on legal aid risked undermining access to justice for the poorest in society and 77 per cent backed increasing legal aid rates.

Protecting legal aid funding was a particular issue for high street solicitors, with 60 per cent saying that protecting the legal aid budget and representing solicitors working in legal aid should be a high priority for the Society.

In line with previous years, the annual, in-depth telephone survey of more than 500 solicitors showed that our members believed that regulation should be a top priority for us as an organisation.

The vast majority of respondents, at 88 per cent, rated the Law Society’s intervention in firms where there has been a critical failure as important. Other key areas for our members included inspecting firms to ensure compliance with accounting rules (74 per cent); setting standards for solicitors and updating practice rules (70 per cent); and investigating conduct complaints against solicitors and prosecuting cases before the discipline tribunal (66 per cent).

Respondents were broadly positive about the work and functions of the Society, with considerable support, at 93 per cent, for us continuing to represent, support and regulate the profession. A total of 85 per cent of respondents agreed we were an effective regulator and that their membership of Society had global recognition as a rigorous and valued professional accreditation, up from 79 per cent since the question was first asked last year.

The findings are largely positive, with 63 per cent of the respondents saying they were optimistic about the future of the profession.

Eilidh Wiseman is president of the Law Society of Scotland