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  • Writer's pictureSundeep Bhatia

Is the Badge of Solicitor becoming tarnished?

My favourite teacher ,at school,was Mr Newman. He taught me the joys of Shakespeare and the poetry of Chaucer. I studied “The Knights Tale” for A level. My head still rings with Chaucer’s emphasis on Chivalry and the code of honour. I have always felt that solicitors are Knights of the modern era . We live by the SRA’s code of conduct and place the interests of our clients above our own self interest. When I qualified , back in 1992 ,solicitors were mentioned in the same hushed breath as Doctors. They were respected for both their advice and ethical behaviour. I remember my parent’s pride as I was presented with my certificate of qualification by the then President of the Law Society back in 1992 Over the years I have worn the title of Solicitor with pride much to the bemusement of relatives living in the USA. An American cousin teases me with jokes about “Attorneys” such as “Why don’t sharks eat attorneys?-professional courtesy ” It is obvious that US “Attorneys ” are viewed with disdain. Since I qualified I have seen a worrying move in public opinion,in this country. The truth is that it is easier to bury Lawyers if one can demonise them. The Ministry of Justice fully understands this. That is why,before it publishes a consultation paper on reducing Legal Aid,it always publishes a list of the 10 solicitors firms or barristers who have earned the most from the practice of legal aid during the preceding twelve months. This creates an impression that all solicitors and barristers,involved in the practice of Legal Aid law,are “Fat cat ” lawyers bleeding the public purse dry. This is misleading Most citizens would be surprised to learn that they,their plumber or a teacher at a local school are probably earning more then an average Legal Aid lawyer. The massed forces of the Government,Legal Services Board and Solicitors Regulation Authority seek to do all that they can to dilute what solicitors do in the interests of increasing competition and in driving down professional fees. The SRA wishes,it appears, to become a universal regulator of all legal professions. It appears willing to achieve that goal by means of allowing ABS and MDP to thrive at the expense of small firms and sole practitioners. How else can one explain the recent consultation on loosening the regulation of MDP? How else can one explain proposals on professional indemnity insurance which will push up insurance prices and cajole Banks and building societies into removing small BAME firms from their conveyancing panels? Reductions in Legal Aid rates will drive many hundreds of firms out of the Legal Profession and will result in faceless soulless super sized firms employing armies of paralegals with little experience. Standards of representation will drop. Miscarriages of Justice will rise and the reputation of the profession will suffer. One of the hallmarks of our profession has been looking after members of the public who use our services. The compensation fund and compulsory insurance of £2 million ensure that members of the public are not left out of pocket in circumstances where a solicitor is negligent or fraudulent. Yet the implementation of SRA plans would lead to a reduction in minimum levels of indemnity insurance to £500,000,a restricted aggregation of claims payable by an insurance company during the course of a year,and a restriction on who can claim from the indemnity fund. The net effect of these three changes will be that members of the public are more likely not to be fully compensated in the event that they need to make a claim against the solicitor representing them .This will inevitably lead to the profession suffering reputational damage. The profession of Solicitor is under attack from all sides and the next few years will determine whether ,in future years,our profession will be viewed with the same historic nostalgia as Chaucer’s Knight.

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