How do I assess my fitness to become a specialist?

This is a very difficult issue and the Registrar Department who operate the specialist accreditation regime receive regular calls on this issue. We would not wish to discourage anyone from applying for accreditation but clearly in a perfect world we would encourage applicants with the right level of qualifications and experience and avoid applicants applying a year or two before they are actually ready. If you are in any doubt, please feel free to contact the department for guidance but you might find it helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. All modesty aside, do I feel that I have the knowledge and experience in this area of the law to be regarded as capable beyond the ordinary?
  2. Do my colleagues in the firm regard me as extra knowledgeable in this area and do they seek out my advice and guidance with problem cases?
  3. Do colleagues in other firms and/or practising in other disciplines regard me as extra knowledgeable in this area and do they seek out my advice and guidance with problem cases?
  4. Do I present in-house or external seminars on this area of law?
  5. Have I written items on this area of law for in-house distribution, a web site, newspapers or legal publications?
  6. Is much of my caseload complex and unusual as opposed to run-of-the-mill standard matters?
  7. Do I work autonomously as opposed to being a junior member of a larger team?

If the answer to all of the above is no then you probably need more experience before applying. If you can answer three of these questions in the affirmative, it may be worth preparing an application for submission. If you can answer all in the affirmative, you should certainly consider applying.

As a final tip, you should have a trusted colleague review your application for you and give a frank analysis of whether that they feel it adequately makes your case. It is often worth taking another year or so to flesh out the balance of your skills before making an application if in doubt.

Procedure:

  1. The Council of the Law Society of Scotland's system of accreditation of specialists by a suitably qualified Accreditation Panel confers specialist status on solicitors who can demonstrate expertise gained from practising in the specialism and can show significant experience in that specialism. The panel is made up of solicitor members experienced in this area of the law who are drawn from a range of government, public sector and other relevant organisations.
  2. An applicant should have held an unrestricted practising certificate for seven years.
  3. Applicants should be able to demonstrate significant experience in the specialism during each of the five years preceding the application.
  4. 'Significant experience' is assessed by the panel taking into consideration among other factors, the following areas in assessing an applicant's fitness to be accredited:
    (a) Proportion of time/chargeable hours spent in work in area of specialism. (b) Complexity of cases. (c) Role in those cases (lead solicitor, instructing counsel, part of team etc). (d) Attendance at suitable training course (including in-house courses where appropriate). (e) Participation in teaching at training courses (including in-house courses where appropriate). (f) Authorship of books, articles, website and in-house materials. (g) Discipline, complaints and claims record. (h) References. (i) Other relevant matters.
  5. If the application is successful, the applicant will be accredited as a specialist in the chosen specialism for a period of five years, and will be entitled to apply for renewal of the accreditation at the end of that period. The onus is on the applicant to apply for re-accreditation, no less than two months in advance of expiry. Re-accreditation will run from the expiry date notwithstanding the date of a panel's meeting or consideration of an application.
  6. The fee for initial application is £200. The fee for each renewal application is £150. The fee is non-returnable.
  7. Applicants should advise the panel of the details of any complaint intimated to them by the Law Society of Scotland which has been made against them or their firm as a result of their actings in the course of the last five years. The Law Society of Scotland may delay making a decision on the application until any such complaint or claim has been decided or resolved.
  8. In the event of the panel refusing an application, the applicant may ask the panel to reconsider their decision within 28 days of intimation of that refusal and may submit additional material in support of their request. In the event their review results in a further refusal, they can appeal that decision in writing to the Professional Practice Committee within 28 days of intimation of that further refusal and the panel will make all information relating to the decision available to the Professional Practice Committee for that purpose.
  9. Applicants should be aware that the Council of the Law Society of Scotland may suspend the accreditation before the expiry of the five-year period. This may take place if circumstances come to the attention of the Council which would make this course of action appropriate.
  10. Accreditation is by means of a process of assessment and adjudication by the panel. The panel reserves the right to request that an applicant attend an interview.
  11. Any guideline or regulation may be relaxed or waived in exceptional circumstances on application by the Accreditation Panel to the Professional Practice Committee whose decision shall be final.
  12. Applicants should give particulars of two referees with appropriate knowledge and standing in the area of specialism. Applicants should submit the two reference forms direct to their chosen referees inviting them to complete the forms and return them direct to the Society marked for the attention of Sharon McFarlane, Registrar Department. Referees should note that they may be called upon to give further information. The independence and professional standing of the referees will be taken into account.
  13. All submitted information will be treated in the strictest of confidence by the Accreditation Panel.
  14. The Society recommends that you create a file and put notes of interesting cases/authorship/presentations over the next five years into it to assist with your application for renewal of your accreditation
  15. The Society recomends that you put a reminder in your diary a minimum of three months before expiry of your accreditation to remind you to re-apply in good time.