To improve our service and efficiency we have changed our IT, we have moved office, we’ve adapted our processes, and we’re on the brink of legislative reform which will change other aspects of how we work and have been asking staff to prepare for that. Even for people who love change that is an exhausting programme, and staff have done more than we could have ever reasonably asked to keep helping those who use our service, deliver our work, and help each other.
Not only that, but colleagues placed bigger issues before themselves. It was staff that set an aspiration that our office move should be done in an environmentally sustainable way. That was committed to even where it caused more disruption for them personally while furniture was refurbished, our kitchen was moved to the new site, and chances to visit the new office came at the price of carrying bags from the old one to cut down transport emissions.
Organisations like ours are essentially ‘human’, services delivered by people requiring intelligence and empathy, to people who often have vulnerabilities who need emotional support as much as a technically fair process.
So, while I start with a thanks to the people that deliver our work, it has also been a year dominated by a focus on those raising a complaint with us or subject to one.
We have implemented new rules this year to ensure our service is accessible and reflects the digital engagement most parties now wish, and our Service Experience Team have reviewed how people can raise complaints about the SLCC’s own service. We have improved our website accessibility based on an audit from the previous year where users with a range of disabilities helped test the site for us and push our thinking about what real accessibility means. Our Consumer Panel published demographic information on who uses our service. We worked with the profession to develop a statement on how we would handle complaints when there was a concern the lawyer was at the risk of harm, and we delivered a programme of outreach events to supports solicitors facing a complaint and help them avoid the common causes of complaints.
We’ve also sought to tackle what we understand is in part a very human issue, solicitors who fail to respond to statutory requests from the SLCC. There are many causes, but we understand sometimes this is ‘panic’ and ‘sticking heads in the sand’ at a complaint, but equally it is failure to comply with law from a regulated professional. This systemic issue comes at great cost to the profession in staff time and legal and court fees, and at great reputational cost. We’re grateful for the Law Society of Scotland passing a clear rule this year on the issue but remain deeply concerned about the continued impact of these failures.
Finally, in the debate on reform we’ve tried to focus our work on the knowledge we’ve gained from dealing with over 36,000 people as part of the complaints process. We need the new legislation to meet the standards of ‘good law’, but we also want policymakers and the sector to understand what that looks like in an operational context and the costs of delivering that. Ultimately parliament will make the decisions, but it is individual people travelling the process who will feel the outcome of those decisions.
I hope you find the remainder of this report brings our work to life, sharing examples of what we deliver and how we constantly seek to improve. At the end I will return to some of the themes above as we look to the year ahead.