The Law Society of Scotland’s Executive Director of Regulation, Phil Yelland, talks to us as he looks forward to retirement after a 30 year career at the Society
Phil YellandWhy did you decide to join the Society?

I joined the Society back in 1990 from private practice because I was looking for a change. Before going to university I had worked in the civil service, and part of the job I had done there and enjoyed, and my legal skills, seemed to point me towards applying for a job in what was then the Complaints Department. There were three of us in those days dealing with around 350 complaints each, the Complaints Committees had two non-solicitor members out of 15 in total, and the decisions were made by Council. The interview panel consisted of no fewer than seven people – didn’t forget that in a hurry!

What are the biggest changes you have seen at the Society over the years?

Thirty years is a long time in any job. The biggest change in a physical sense was the move from Drumsheugh Gardens to Atria One. It has been a change for the better in my view, but that said, Drumsheugh was a fantastic building in terms of history.

Council has changed massively too, both in terms of the introduction of non-solicitors and of the gender balance now being significantly better than it was in 1990.

Digital has made a difference and will continue to do so, but perhaps the biggest change came when Lorna Jack arrived – the first non-solicitor to hold the post of chief executive, and bringing very different ideas from her perspectives in business. We have benefitted from that, and the fact that we now have a published strategy and annual plan for which we are accountable is I think a measure of how far we have come.

On the regulatory side, the advance in the use of delegated powers from Council was huge in terms of what it allowed to be done more quickly. The Regulatory Committee for me was also a significant development, and I think in the world in which we now live its role will continue to develop and have importance in holding the regulatory side of the business to account.

What have been the highlights for you personally?

I have worked with and met a lot of really interesting and fantastic people. I have had different opportunities and I guess there have been opportunities I should have taken but haven’t. I guess the highlights – not sure everyone would say this – are to have been involved in two parliamentary inquiries into the regulation of the legal profession, both of which ended up focusing on complaints, and having the chance on a couple of occasions to represent the Society at events abroad. I was proud that last year we were able to bring the International Conference of Legal Regulators to Edinburgh.

What are the main issues that you think the Society has to address now and going forward? 

COVID-19 is a huge issue. The President announced the Council’s package of measures at the end of April, which will help, but clearly at this moment in time we don’t know what the future will look like. The Member Services team, I know, have done a great job and will continue to do that but it’s the whole Society-wide response which is important. Like the businesses in the high street, the Society still has to do its job in terms of regulation at what is a difficult time for everyone. Council members are very important, looking to the future in terms of feeding back and helping the business understand what is happening at the coalface and being able to react to that.

For me another key area is what happens to the Legal Services Review. Obviously in the current climate it is not the most important thing, but it will come back to the fore at some point. For me, the current model is not broken but does need to be improved. Having been involved one way and another in complaints over 30 years, I feel I am qualified to say that the current system does not work. The processes involved are just too slow, too rigid and too complex. Whatever new complaints model might emerge needs to deal with what many would call “consumer” complaints, but it is also vital that conduct matters are properly identified and dealt with – I am proud to be a Scottish solicitor and all that stands for, and standards need to be maintained to ensure public confidence.

What any regulatory model has to acknowledge is the importance of the expertise of the professionals giving legal advice, and the need to have a model which allows innovation – in other words the legislation needs to be flexible and recognise that the way legal services will be delivered going forward will change.

What’s your top tip for new lawyers?

Enjoy what you do; understand the positive effect you can have for people and take an interest in what is happening in the profession: when there are consultations about the Legal Services Review and the future, take part. Whatever changes might be coming will be a once in a generation opportunity; make your voice heard.

How are you planning on spending your retirement, and what will you miss about the Society?

People who know me will know I am not going to sit and do nothing. I hope to find a couple of opportunities to use my knowledge to help others in whatever way that may be.

I now have a second grandchild, and looking after grandchildren will form part of the time, as will being involved in cricket administration and also coaching. I hope to be able to travel more, and I have been advised to make a list of things to do, when I don’t have anything to do! I hope with a bit of luck my football team might find themselves back in the Football League and that might open up some interesting opportunities too.

I will miss not just the people I have worked with on a daily basis but also the many Council and committee members whom I have met down the years; I have learnt huge amount from people who, had I not worked for the Society, I would never have met and I count myself very lucky to have had that chance. 

 

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