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

Is a more “holistic” approach part of our courts future? #protestforjustice

A feasibility study is apparently looking at a purpose-built justice centre in Inverness which could operate in the same way as the new complex in Livingston – where police, procurator fiscal’s office and social work services, as well as a modern sheriff court, are cheek by jowl. The Scottish Government has held this up as a model for possible centres, as did SCS in its final report on its closure proposals. There are attractions in offering support and counselling (perhaps around addiction) to reduce crime and its causes. This more “holistic” approach is being used elsewhere to great effect. However, solicitors perhaps become a less dominant player in this model. If these “centres” are to become a feature of our landscape, lawyers probably need to find out more about how they work in other jurisdictions, and contribute to the debate on how we measure their efficiency and effectiveness. Failing to engage on this wider approach could lead to the profession being marginalised.

@lawscot named as 9th best workplace in Scotland at awards ceremony #Scotlandsbestworkplace

A little trumpet blowing is allowable but this tweet does not constitute evidence of one long champagne party at members’ expense. With our accounts open to scrutiny by all at AGMs I find here, more than my former workplaces, there is considered debate on how to motivate, enthuse, and retain a great team. I know for our inhouse members, especially in the public sector, the same issues are recognised; likewise in private practice, where profits are down but more sustained commitment from staff than ever is needed. I also see creative examples of motivation. Most strikingly one partner at the start of the downturn told me that the former fairly lavish annual day out, dinner and thanks had been replaced by an afternoon of beach sports and fish and chips. Everyone loved it just as much, perhaps even more, knowing the effect of the difficulties of the time on every spending decision. This tallies with work with our own staff, where respect (people saying good morning on the stairs), simple acknowledgement of work, consistency and integrity of management, the ability to contribute to decisions, openness and inclusion came back time and again as key issues. Indeed, these compensate for some really low scores in high-cost areas (like facilities and infrastructure) where we can’t compete. When ABS outfits enter the Scottish market they will draw in staff by being a “great place to work”. The sector should be factoring for this now.

@sra_solicitors announce growing number of firm #fails

The Solicitors Regulation Authority in England and Wales has recently announced a growing trend of firm failures, including big firms. They predict that this will get worse before it gets better. Factors include the general downturn, new competition, the tightening of bank lending, and poor financial management. Whatever the cause the whole profession has an interest in how these matters are addressed. A knock-on effect is a £7million shortfall in their own finances this year due to the costs of dealing with these failures – a cost that then has to be met by the profession in future fees. Should regulators tighten financial standards and look at introducing requirements around capital adequacy? This could be the correct long-term approach but could lead to a worsening of the situation in the short term. Yet sticking our collective head in the sand is likely to see us pay a high price in the future. As we evolve our own thinking in this area we’d welcome thoughts from solicitors as to how to minimise the risk that the costs of dealing with failed firms will increase to the detriment of all firms.

• 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