Exclusive: Law Society challenged over “ill-conceived, inappropriate” Esto Law
Society asked to explain:
- Discussions between Esto principals, SLAB and the Law Society prior to its formation
- Non disclosure to the Profession
- Use of information or access by Esto
- “Inappropriate” commercial advantage
The Law Society has been challenged by the Glasgow Bar Association to address the “grave concern” of its members over the formation of the Esto Law venture.
In a lengthy letter to the President of the Law Society, Glasgow Bar Association President Bernadette Baxter claims that discussions took place between the principals of Esto Law Ltd, SLAB and the Law Society of Scotland without disclosure to the profession, whilst five of the Esto principals were simultaneously conducting negotiations on behalf of the profession in their capacity as members of the Legal Aid Negotiating Team.
The GBA have asked the Law Society to investigate the “extraordinary set of circumstances” that parallel discussions were alleged to be ongoing whilst negotiations were underway by the team members “in relation to a commercial venture of their own.”
“It seems to us unarguable that in the midst of the most important Legal Aid negotiations in a generation that a commercial venture of this kind, comprised almost entirely of members or former members of the Society's Legal Aid Negotiating Team is wholly ill-conceived,” Baxter says.
She also asks whether Esto is regulated by the Law Society and insured under the master policy, and adds that “the Registrar at the Law Society appears unaware of their existence.”
The letter formally challenges the Law Society to address whether the former members of the legal aid negotiating team used information or access acquired as members in connection with the set up of Esto.
“If so does the Society consider that such behaviour is appropriate?” she asks.
“In any event does the Society agree, that in principle and aside from the present circumstances, it is inappropriate for those exercising a representative role on behalf of the profession to use that position for commercial advantage?”
The letter also asks whether the Society considered it appropriate for its Negotiating Team to be involved in a venture for commercial gain arising from the regulations that were being negotiated at the time.
“I am sure you will appreciate that the disquiet and uncertainty amongst court practitioners around this issue requires to be promptly addressed and their concerns fully answered,” the letter concludes.
Two of the Directors of Esto Ltd told The Firm on Monday that they had not taken advantage of “insider trading”, adding that the company was formed to provide a solution to difficulties firms faced in complying with the new Post-Cadder police station duty obligations.