On 1st May, a packed Bristol Law Society Law Library had the opportunity to quiz Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, current Law Society President, during her visit to Bristol. Of course, criminal practice was high on the agenda but not the only subject covered during the 90 minute session chaired by BLS President Ashley Palminteri.
For the first 30 minutes, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff outlined how the Law society has been acting to support its members and in particular she stated firmly that the Law Society is committed to the survival of High Street firms. But she warned that solicitors need to get behind the use of new technology to deliver services more efficiently, a brave statement with the lessons of the SRA’s online renewal of Practising Certificates fresh in the minds of the audience, which comprised of lawyers from all types of firms, but with a good selection of criminal practitioners to the fore.
Legal Aid was on many people’s minds and Luct scott-Moncrieff referred to the new Practice Note on unbundling services in family law, whilst on criminal legal aid reforms, she stated that they were “not workable and the timescale for the proposals is unrealistic”. She urged all BLS members to respond to the consultation on PCT.
She mentioned the Jackson reforms and noted that ABS was here to stay, mentioning that her own firm had now become an ABS. She also noted that OFR was bedding down, but that as this was designed to pass the cost of regulation from the SRA to the Profession, the Law Society was lobbying hard for lower costs and improved service from the SRA.
Lucy mentioned that the long-delayed Education and Training Review should be published in May (but she doubted whether that timetable would be met) and said that the Law Society is lobbying for ways for people to qualify as a Solicitor other than through a training contract.
The ARP was now no more and firms unable to find PII renewal will be forced to close if they cannot find an insurer within 90 days. However, Lucy felt that with the single renewal date now a thing of the past, firms should be able to find better deals in the market. The Law Society is pushing the Government to make Will Writing a reserved activity (as per the LSB proposal), but Lucy believes it is unlikely that Government will accede to this. The Law Society is therefore developing a quality mark for Will Writing (along the lines of the CQS).
The Law Society do not agree with QASA but it is being driven through, whilst finally Lucy Scott-Moncrieff that CQS is having a positive impact on opening back up lenders’ panels to firms. The Law Society is, however, opposed to separate representation.
A number and variety of questions were then directed from the floor to the Law Society President. There was clear disquiet to what was felt to be a weak and limited PR defence from the Law Society of the profession on topics relating to civil fixed fees, criminal legal aid and QASA. Lucy Scott-Moncrieff suggested to some disbelief in the audience that a public-focussed PR campaign would not be a good thing and that it was the perception of Government that mattered rather than the perception of the public, clients and potential clients. She said that challenging such lazy fallacies as “compensation culture” was not in the interest of the profession.
On PCT, she said that the Law Society has a strategy to try to influence Government of their view that it will not work, but this was not a strategy that involved shouting this out to the public. This was not well received by a significant proportion of the audience. On QASA, Lucy noted that the Profession was not as homogenous as the Bar and therefore it was a more difficult job to co-ordinate a single response to QASA. She could not tell members to “strike”, but in her view QASA was “too expensive, too complicated and won’t work”.
The audience returned to this theme several more times. The Law Society was urged to present to the public the “real cost” of Legal Aid rather than headline figures bandied about by Government, including revenue generated from Legal Aid cases, as well as noting the real fall in civil “compensation” cases. Lucy was also asked to urge the Law Society in being more pro-active in giving advice to COLPs facing the fall-out from LASPO, especially with the threat of 1400 firms closing nationally.
Other topics raised from the floor included help from the Law Society for small firms wishing to be entrepreneurial, ABSs, routes to qualification as a Solicitor and Pro Bono, whereupon Lucy reiterated her view that “Law Students are an important resource in pro bono” – a fact all too well known in Bristol where the Universities and Legal Education providers are very active in pro bono.
All too soon Ashley Palminteri brought proceedings to a close and reminded the audience that the next confidential BLS surgery (held at the Law Library) will be on 30th May. Before then, BLS will be holding an event on entrepreneurship and the growth accelerator on 22nd May.
Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said of her visit to Bristol:-
“I had a productive roundtable meeting with a small number of managing partners for single-office, commercially-focused city-based firms in Bristol. None of the firms were identical to each other but, because they are all broadly of a similar size, they share common practice management issues, seen across the country. We had the opportunity to talk about how the Law Society can help them meet some of the challenges they are currently facing.
I also met three ABS practices based in Bristol to hear about their experiences behind converting to ABS and also to reinforce the message that the Law Society is happy to work with any entities regulated by the SRA.
I was then given a (polite) grilling by members of the Bristol Law Society at its impressive library. We covered a wide range of topics, including, of course, criminal legal aid, and I took many messages back to base to inform our work in these areas.”
Lucy Scott-Moncrieff will next be in Bristol on 8th July speaking at the BYlaw event on Equality & Diversity (to be held at TLT and in association with Bristol Pride).