President's message: a request for views on the less than level playing field on which they compete with companies dealing with claims for personal injuries

There have been many predictions about the implications for the Scottish legal system and the Scottish Courts with the Human Rights Act 1998 coming into force next month, bringing with it the application of the European Convention on Human Rights to public bodies. Some fear chaos and are filled with a sense of foreboding; others are optimistic and see a brighter future for Scotland’s citizens. What is clear is that the changes we have already seen over the last year as a result of the partial incorporation of the Convention have made us all look at the law in a different way.

There will be a number of challenges to existing practices and procedures across all areas of the law. We will need to rely on the long-standing virtues of our profession - sound judgment and principled argument. We will all have to keep the Convention in mind, no matter what sort of practice we have. The profession has always risen to the challenge of change and will do so again.


Since pieces appeared in recent issues of the Journal about the present DX system, the Editor and the Society have received a great many communications on the subject. As anticipated, many solicitors are very unhappy with the present situation and there is substantial support for an alternative to be found. There has been active encouragement for the Society to have a say on behalf of the profession in the way any alternative would operate, and for the Society generally to represent the collective “muscle” of Scottish solicitors by taking a more overtly commercial approach to the delivery of services that we all need.

Since this coincides with my thinking - and incidentally that of Martin McAllister, the Vice-President - I am more than happy to push forward this sort of approach. Some ideas have already been suggested to the Society and we will address them as soon as possible.

Cost savings

Although an important feature of the Society’s involvement in providing practical services for its members is that the profession should retain an element of control for itself, the issue of cost is obviously paramount. With that in mind, it was great to hear from the Insurance Committee that a 9% reduction in the global premium for professional indemnity insurance has been negotiated. This is the result of a good claims record on the part of Scottish solicitors over recent years and reflects the success of our profession’s approach to risk management. Cover under the Master Policy is wider now than it has ever been thanks to changes to the policy wording which have been agreed over the past few months. Scottish solicitors should take pride in what they have achieved and continue to work hard to maintain their track record. A letter will shortly be coming out to firms explaining how next year’s premiums are calculated.

New diploma

The beginning of October sees the commencement of the new Diploma in Legal Practice at the universities of Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh, and the Glasgow Graduate School of Law. The course is designed to be more in tune with current thinking in legal practice and more geared towards the needs of today’s clients.

There are two key concepts. The first is to develop legal skills rather than merely focusing on knowledge. Of course some practical law will be taught, but the main aim of the new diploma is to impart an understanding of the skills needed by practising lawyers. The second concept is to better equip students for the transition to their traineeships in offices and the subsequent elements of the process whereby they will ultimately qualify as solicitors.

A huge amount of work has gone into the development of the new diploma. A substantial number of people have been involved in this project and it is almost certainly invidious to pick any one individual. You all know who you are, but I would like to pay particular tribute to George Jamieson, our Council Member from Paisley, who has spent countless hours on co-ordinating the preparation and delivery of the materials for the new course.

It is now over to the universities to deliver the new diploma and I wish them and the diploma students every success in this exciting year. The Society will be keeping a close eye on how things develop to ensure that the course is constantly improving to meet the needs of the profession and its clients.

Unfair competition?

I have been buttonholed by a number of you about the rise of companies dealing with claims for personal injury. Their advertisements appear very regularly in the press and broadcast mediums. They compete with solicitors in an area which was formerly the preserve of the legal profession. Of course they are only one species of competition and there are many others these days.

Many of you feel that competition by certain claims companies is unfair, firstly because, unlike solicitors, they are not governed by any regulatory framework. In particular the quality of the service they provide to their customers is not subject to scrutiny by any sort of governing body. In addition the staff of claims companies have not had to go through a lengthy and expensive qualification process. They do not have fairly substantial costs to meet, as solicitors do, just to carry on their business. As a result they are able to devote a much larger proportion of their turnover to marketing their services to the public.

I believe that the issue of the level playing field is a valid one and we will raise this with the Justice Minister and the DTI as soon as possible. Why should one type of provider of legal services be publicly accountable, whereas a direct competitor is not subject to such scrutiny?

Of course this issue formed the topic for discussion at the AGM in April. It seemed to me then that specific marketing of claims services was a major issue in addition to the achievement of a level playing field. Should the Society identify this particular area as one for fairly aggressive marketing on behalf of the profession collectively? Is the profession prepared to accept the costs of such a campaign? Would this be fair on other areas of practice? Does that matter? I would really welcome your views.

Share this article
Add To Favorites