The Good Stuff: In the face of so much popular criticism of lawyers - and of the legal profession in general - it is refreshing to be able to hold up as examples of integrity and best practice, certain members of the legal profession who do their best in difficult circumstances to service their clients honestly, to the best of their abilities. Some I-I members are very supportive of their own legal teams and are happy to recommend them to other members, and we are honoured to count a number of such solicitors amongst our membership. Unfortunately however, those examples are very few and far between.
The Not-So-Good Stuff: According to the majority of opinion amongst I-I members, the legal profession in Ireland is a very poor reflection of what it was originally intended to be, and many citizens believe the profession has completely lost the run of itself. The overarching sense of entitlement and privilege conveyed by many solicitors when dealing with their clients for example, does not marry up with any modern concept of genuine ‘service’. Members feel they are expected to go cap-in-hand when seeking legal services, and that they are in no position to question how the solicitor is operating, or why they are being charged such exorbitant amounts - often for painfully slow and shoddy work. Many citizens feel they are being callously exploited by self-serving, greedy and unprincipled solicitors, but that they have little choice other than to take it on the chin. The multiple instances of solicitors colluding with other solicitors in order to drag out cases and thereby increase their fees, is also extremely disturbing in a profession that is supposed to be centred on the principles of justice, and the remedies available to any citizen who has been wronged by a solicitor are also difficult and onerous to pursue - most especially if the solicitor is ‘connected’ in Irish society, as so many of them are.
The Really Bad and Depressing Stuff:The reports of serial frauds and deceptions by solicitors-turned-developers in recent years will not be news to anyone, nor the recent exposure that a Judge, whilst still a practicing solicitor, engaged in very serious fraud. Likewise the news that another solicitor - a prominent social figure connected to the political establishment - is now being charged with solicitation to murder three people! But what may come as a bit of a surprise to many, are the apparently-casual levels of fraud, deception and perjury engaged in by Irish solicitors on a routine basis. Most disturbing perhaps is when this happens in the Courts, whereby these rogue solicitors have no apparent fear of being held properly to account. I-I members report that even when they can demonstrate that forged documents are being produced by dishonest solicitors, that Courts can and will simply ignore the issue. Members who have tried to bring these incidents to the attention of the Courts receive no responses to their written submissions, and cases simply ‘carry on’ regardless. Lodging criminal complaints with Gardai also seems to be a pointless and fruitless exercise - especially if the solicitor in question is ‘well connected’. But of course, the wronged citizen can always lodge a complaint with the Law Society of Ireland, which has a special Complaints and Client relations Department set up for the specific purpose of dealing with complaints against solicitors - right? If only that were the case.
What the citizen is not told of course, is that in all but a very small handful of cases, the Complaints Department at the Law Society (which is staffed by a panel of well-connected solicitors and barristers) will first-and-foremost ‘look after their own’. Some of the lawyers serving on the Complaints department Panel for instance, are themselves the subjects of serious complaints - but no-one seems to notice the incongruity of such a situation. The Law Society of Ireland operates in effect, as a union for solicitors, and although it trots out the usual reassurances and codes of ethics to the public, the experience of several I-I members so far is that the Complaints Department of the Law Society is there to protect its members from being held accountable, rather than protect the wronged citizen from legal malfeasance.
Likewise, the so-called ‘Independent Adjudicator of the Law Society’ is supposedly there to ensure the various Departments at the Law Society do not engage in improper conduct or procedures. Unfortunately, the individual holding that very well-paid post for several years now, has demonstrated on more than one occasion that she is neither truly ‘independent’ nor is she apparently willing to tackle any of the serious wrongdoing at the Law Society that has been reported to her. How for example can the Independent Adjudicator explain her statement that she “is satisfied that all procedures were carried out properly” when even the Complaints Department at the law Society admitted in writing that they had closed a very serious complaint case against a Dublin solicitor - without notifying the complainant - and without producing even one iota of evidence that any investigation had ever been done? Likewise, how does the Independent Adjudicator account for the glowing personal-and-professional reference given to her by the current Head of the Complaints Department?
Independent? Trustworthy? Transparent? No, not at all!