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Could the end of the High Street Solicitor be…. around the corner ?

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No Solicitors!!!

No Solicitors!!! (Photo credit: age3.141592)

I’ve just had the opportunity to glance through the ‘Survey of Irish law firms 2012/13 which landed on my desk today.  The authors of the Survey, Smith & Williamson claim that 93 law firms took part in the Survey: 5 of the top 10; 14 mid-tier and 74 small firms. I must be included in the latter category having completed the Survey. I actually had a few minutes one day and decided to do my duty.  That said, sadly none of my illuminating comments were reported although they claim that ‘a sample of participants’ comments have been included…’

By and large, in my opinion, the Survey is completely unrepresentative of the views of the majority of the profession. The views expressed are clearly of the Elites in the profession who have absolutely nothing in common with the High Street solicitor who the working man/woman has contact with. It’s interesting to read under the heading Impact of the Legal Services Regulation Bill  ‘The Bill proposes the establishment of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority  thereby removing the existing self-regulation system by the Law Society and Bar Council…..In spite of concerns regarding Government influence, the Law Society fundamentally altered its stance in April 2012 when it informed members of its formal support for the Authority proposal and stated it would be in the best interest of the public and the profession.’  This is yet another case where the interests of the Elites are indeed served while the independence offered by the High Street Solicitor representing an independent Legal Profession have been dismissed. In future then, the State will control the legal profession with the full support of the Law Society. It’s at times like this that I wonder what my membership of the Law Society is all about. They hold themselves out as representing the interests of the profession. They do not. It is a long time since they have represented my interests or the interests of my colleagues, bar those that serve Government and Multinational Enterprises including the Banks and Insurance Companies. To be fair to the authors of the Survey they do state ‘However, this stance does not appear to currently have the full support of the profession…’

I won’t bore you with further references to the Survey except to say that it is of little or no assistance to the average solicitor who must continue to work hard to etch out a living. Gone are the days of some 50 years ago when the fact of qualifying was enough to guarantee you a certain standard of living. Today the legal professions are not restricted to the sons and daughters of solicitors and those preferred members of society. They are made up of the sons and daughters of the working man who worked hard, night and day, to give their children a chance to pursue a career. The ability to study law was once the preserve of the chosen few. Today lawyers work hard to pursue the rights of their clients regardless of ability to pay and suchlike. That was not always the case. I should, in balance, say that there was always some good people in the profession who acted in such a manner but I believe that they were few and far between.

Over the past couple of years I’d had many a chat with fellow lawyers concerning the future of our profession. Many are close to closing shop. Some time ago, many said, they had purchased the building they worked from with hefty mortgages and now find the cost of repayments are putting an undue strain on their practices. The thought behind this action was to reduce the ever-increasing cost of renting rooms and also to provide for a pension for themselves when they retired. This scenario is not uncommon. It would appear that it is only time for many, before they must cease to practice. The inability to access funds from the Banks among other things has had catastrophic results for them. At a time when they need guidance and assistance from their professional body, they feel ostracised and alone in their fight for survival. Even the need to attend seminars to gain CPD points, while not cheap in itself,  has them away from their practices when there are few enough hours in the working week as it is, to complete their legal work for their clients. It is sad the number of good lawyers, both solicitors and barristers who have had to cease practice over the last few years. Not only is it sad, it’s an absolute disgrace. The loss of these good people is being felt by those of us left to continue in practice. Little or no concern has been expressed by the Professional Bodies and one must wonder whether a return to the elitist ‘closed door’ profession of the past, is the prefered way forward for them.

LegalEagleStar , Monday , 10th December , 2012 .

Note: The No Solicitors Graphic used above is done so with a sense of humour as it is American and has a non-lawyer meaning.

Shatter’s Legal Services Bill spells doom for the young Junior Bar and protects the Elites to the detriment of the Citizen.

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English: A barrister on a mobile phone outside...

Image via Wikipedia

I have spent some time investigating the effects of the proposed changes in legislation by Minister Shatter and discussed same with several members of the Irish Bar. It was only after speaking with a young junior barrister that I realised the full impact of what will in fact take place. The article that follows has been written by a young female barrister and gives an insider’s view of what the reality of the changes will mean in practice. It is clear to me that Alan Shatter certainly did not have the interests of the Irish Citizen at heart when he set about drafting his proposed reforms. While those that know me are well aware on my views on the Troika and their suspicious agenda, I feel that the implementation of the proposed reforms will undermine the practice of law in this country to the detriment of the citizen and should be opposed by all right thinking citizens before it is too late. Beware of the Elites and their hunger for power and control of the citizen. Don’t say you haven’t been warned !

The Legal Services Regulation Bill[1]

The Irish legal profession has always relied on the essential requirement of being a completely independent profession, the new Legal Services Bill completely undermines that notion. Indeed it would seem that it is Minister Shatter’s personal agenda which is at the core of this new bill. An agenda which undermines the core of the Irish Bar; independence. The Bill comes about as a requirement under the EU/IMF bailout and is said to be a necessity in the profession. While it is acceded that some reform in the area of legal services is both needed and welcomed, both by the Bar Council and indeed the Law Society, the Bill in its proposed form goes far beyond the proposals presented both by the Legal Costs Working Group and the Competition Authority as well as going completely beyond and even against international principles in regulating the legal profession.

The public are being wrongly informed that this Bill will reduce costs for the consumer when in fact, the opposite will occur. The ‘independent referral bar’ is an equal opportunity workplace, based in the law library where barristers are sole traders. If the idea of barristers forming partnerships with other barristers, solicitors, tax accountants etc come into place, the independent referral bar will be lost forever. As a Barrister in the early years of practice, the idea of barristers going into such partnerships is a frightening proposition. Many colleagues with years of experience and established practices will have people lining up to form partnerships with them but many young practitioners wont have such luck. Such partnerships would likely divide the legal profession even more in that the big firms would go into partnership with several established, highly ranked and busy practitioners and create a sort of monopoly, not dissimilar to the US financial sector, and look what happened there. Smaller firms would find themselves in significant difficulty trying to complete with such large firms and while the bar in its current form is accessible to all, the proposals make access to barristers and access therefore to justice more restricted.

The proposed changes would create a barrier for those people who wish to join the profession and indeed those younger practitioners wishing to stay and establish themselves within the profession. The UK have a system known as chambers. In the English Bar Council’s 2006 Report, only 17.5% of people graduating from the Bar would obtain a place in chambers. This stage is known as pupilage (similar to what is referred to as ‘deviling’ in this jurisdiction) so this system, if brought about here, would restrict access to the profession even further. It is difficult in the current economic climate to establish yourself as a self-employed person in any area of work, not least the bar. However, the current system, while it is competitive and challenging, what it provides is an equal opportunity for every person who has qualified, a chance to make it in the profession.

A chambers type system, like that which exists in the UK, would see several partnerships consisting of a select few barristers and which would in return be linked to the large firms and therefore increase costs rather than reduce them. Young barristers frequently take on cases on a pro bona basis for several reasons, experience, interest of justice etc but also to establish relationships with solicitors, an obvious essential in creating a practice and living for yourself at the bar. A young barrister, if lucky enough to even get in a chambers or partnership, would not be able to take on such work without the approval of a higher power. This cannot be said to increase access to justice and reduce costs. The barrister is restricted in taking on the work and the consumer cannot then afford to take the case.

While I see these changes from a young practitioners point of view, these partnerships would also cause serious problems for the consumer and access to justice from their point of view. Should they not be able to afford the sometimes inordinate fees which these larger firms charge, they in effect, cannot have access to some of the more established barristers or barristers who have an expertise in a certain area, as they will be in these partnerships. In the current system, whether you go to a large or small firm, if you request a particular barrister for whatever particular reason known to yourself, if they hold themselves out as an expert in a certain area, they must take on your case[2].

The Bill brings about new levies for practitioners, another cost which will impact the small firms and young barristers. The new structure will bring about a situation where barristers liability insurance will be more specific as opposed to general as it is in its current form. As a young barrister, you take work where you can get it and you pay a general insurance amount which covers all areas. The new proposals could change that and your premium could go up depending on your areas of practice and therefore you would have to turn down work, which could be a new area and therefore a new opportunity for you, because you haven’t got insurance to cover you in that specific area. No young barrister would ever or should ever have to turn down work.

A huge issue for the profession in general is that it will effectively be governed entirely by the Government or, more specific, the Minister for Justice, therefore removing the word independent from every area of the legal profession. The proposed Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) would be the regulatory body which would contain eleven members, seven of which would be entirely Government appointed. Only four from the Bar Council and Law Society. Practitioners would pay for this and the Government would run it. The LSRA would and must refer to the Minister at almost every point or hurdle.

The ‘separation of powers’ which is at the core of the Irish Constitution is in serious jeopardy. Justice must not just be done, but be seen to be done. The former Chief Justice Ronan Keane recently stated that regulators of the legal profession must not only be seen to be independent but be truly independent in every aspect, the Legal Services Regulation Bill completely “Shatters” that notion.


[1] Reference is made to the Article “The Legal Services Regulation Bill”, Shelley Horan BL. The Bar Review, Volume 17, Issue 1, February 2012.

[2] This is known as the ‘cab-rank rule’

LegalEagleStar , Friday , 16th. March , 2012.

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