Legal Services Agency is a charity and a company limited by guarantee. The relationship between it and the firm of solicitors that it employs to undertake the legal advice and representation for LSA’s clients is explained here.
It is LSA’s policy that Brown & Co. adheres to the standards to be expected of a reasonably competent solicitor practising in Scotland. The standard would be, broadly speaking, that which would be expected by a client paying and no reduction or modification of quality is intended, even though services may be provided free or through the Legal Aid system.
Brown & Co. is the solicitors’ firm employed by LSA to undertake the legal work. It has five Partners: Paul Brown (Principal Solicitor), Ronnie Franks (Cashroom Manager), Helen McGinty (Resident Partner, Edinburgh), Deirdre Hanlon (Solicitor), Karen McGill (Solicitor/Advocate).
The Partners of Brown & Co. are responsible for the legal work of the firm as a whole, including all qualified “assistants”, associates, senior solicitors, trainees, paralegals, legal secretaries and so forth. Brown & Co. is responsible for the funds held on behalf of clients in clients’ account.
The relationship between Brown & Co.’s clients and the firm is the same as it would be between any firm in private practice and its clients.
In particular, as regards the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Law Society of Scotland, Brown & Co. is part of the “peer review” quality regime. This means that it is subject to inspection on a regular basis by independent solicitors appointed by the Law Society of Scotland and the Legal Aid Board.
The most recent inspection took place early in 2012. As Brown & Co. was used to “calibrate” the system as a whole, it was inspected by two teams of independent solicitors.
The inspection was, accordingly, intensive, with a minimum of five files randomly selected from each member of legal staff (as above indicated, inspected twice).
The analysis of the inspectors’ views went to the relevant Law Society/Scottish Legal Aid Board Quality Committee.
The report came back to Brown & Co. giving a high level of quality, with large numbers of very positive remarks.
Brown & Co. is also subject to the Scottish Government’s National Standards for Advice and Information. This entails an inspection of overall management systems, as well as randomly selected files. The inspection is undertaken by independent inspectors appointed by consultants engaged by the relevant Government department.
The Scottish National Standards, at least currently, only deals with housing law. Areas inspected include rent arrears, mortgage, housing and Council Tax benefits, disrepair in rented housing, discrimination in housing, eviction, anti-social behaviour, homelessness, security of tenure, negotiating and making offers to creditors, statutory tenancy rights, identifying and agreeing options in debt cases, recalls and appeals against court decrees and orders, negotiating and making offers to creditors, as well as indentifying and agreeing options in debt cases. These were all up to “Type 3 Standard”.
In addition, a large number of Type 1 and Type 2 areas were certified.
LSA understands that it has among the highest levels of National Standards of any organisation in Scotland.
Brown & Co. makes disbursements on behalf of clients and holds clients’ funds. All these arrangements are as required by the Law Society of Scotland. Funds are audited ** times a year and are also subject to random audit by the Law Society of Scotland.
As the management of client funds in general and, in particular, disbursements relates to the funds of LSA, LSA, as the “employing” charity has a range of protocols and audit arrangements, including all disbursements being checked by the Treasurer (who is not a member of staff), as well as a separate audit.
Clients’ funds are generally held in separately denominated special deposit accounts in a mainstream UK based clearing bank (currently the Royal Bank of Scotland).
Brown & Co. has a range of internal quality systems, as suggested by the Law Society of Scotland. Space does not permit an analysis of all of these.
They include a requirement that all members of staff take part, either present or participate, in compulsory professional development (see CPD). This includes not only solicitors and trainees but also administration staff.
This is reviewed to ensure that staff receive all the training that they may require and is well in excess of the minimum required by the Law Society of Scotland.
Brown & Co. has management systems for quality review, including its own “internal” peer review checking system, Time Bar diaries, protocols for the receipt and signature of mail and so forth.
All clients are sent a client questionnaire. In addition, Brown & Co.’s standard “Terms of Business” include information on Brown & Co.’s internal complaints procedures and a complaint form is sent to every client should they wish it, together with a stamped addressed envelope.
Brown & Co. clients, of course, may avail themselves of standard external complaints’ systems in the same way as any client of any solicitor in Scotland.