I know from experience before joining the Law Society’s Immigration Law Committee that it can be hard for practitioners to see what they get for the annual fees they pay.
This is an example of how Law Society committee and policy work behind the scenes benefits us as practitioners and our clients.
Last year the Home Office engaged new sub-contractors to assist them in processing visas in the UK and their contractor engaged a sub-contractor. The sub-contractors were given the right to sell added value services within the contract including the provision of immigration advice.
Solicitors across the country were concerned at the unfair advantage they perceived the company as getting, and the heavy direct marketing and advertising of services directed at our existing clients and the apparent conflicts of interest. The Law Society’s immigration committee members, working closely with the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA), immediately started raising concerns with the Home Office about these arrangements, and attended a series of meetings at the Home Office as well as providing extensive written evidence.
The Society considered legal and other avenues to address what appeared to be an intractable problem in both the public and profession’s interest. In the end we decided that direct meetings and negotiation with the Home Office and raising public awareness of our concerns was the best approach, and although it took longer than we had hoped, we were recently made aware the arrangement with the sub-contractor had been terminated.
Obviously, we are not privy to the exact reasons that the subcontract ended, but I am confident that our work in co-operation with ILPA was influential and helped the Home Office understand the extent of the problems immigration solicitors and their clients perceived in the system.
This is not the end of our work on the new visa processing system. We are aware of ongoing issues with the main contractor and we will continue to collate examples and raise concerns directly with the Home Office to improve things. We are building constructive relationships across the Home Office and strengthening the influence we can have working with them where appropriate and supporting litigation where that is a better option.
The Law Society’s committees are made up of practitioners like me, volunteering our time and sharing our knowledge and experience. The Society supports and resources us, allowing us to co-ordinate work on policy issues and to promote legal issues in a way we simply could not as individual lawyers. When the Society puts its weight behind us we have significant influence. As an immigration lawyer this week I feel confident that influence has benefited and protected my practice, my clients, the profession and the wider public interest.
Adrian Seelhoff, chair of the Law Society Immigration Committee