The Law Society's sideways look at other UK professions and how they are organised shows that the grass is not that much greener elsewhere. Most of the professions under scrutiny are being squeezed by increased external regulation and a more demanding public. Total self-regulation is a thing of the past – no profession is an island.
Professional bodies which have to discipline members are less popular with their members than those which don't – the society can corroborate that. But research showed that most bodies do not have "good mechanisms for feeding the lessons from complaints back into the regulatory process".
The trick here is to eliminate the causes of complaints, thereby improving both the performance and the standing of solicitors. The determination of the society to learn from other professions' complaints handling experience is therefore to be applauded.
The society's combination of the roles of regulator and promoter is seen by some as an anomaly and the researchers say the dual function creates dilemmas. The UK's engineering bodies are creating two boards, one for promotion, the other for regulation. But even that separation might be dangerous, as the regulatory and promotional sides should work in tandem. A difficult, but not impossible task to achieve. In the US, the American Bar Association has the unenviable task of trying to promote a profession it does not regulate.
Where the Law Society has scored is in setting up its specialist panels, which is a flexible way of responding to increased specialisation. But of course they can be more than that if they are presented properly, as with Accident Line. This is proving to be a way of promoting the services of members directly to clients, something that most bodies do poorly. Provided the service delivered by law firms proves to be what the public wants, then the image of the profession could be enhanced accordingly.