Court, courtroom, law.
The Law Society has been found to have abused its dominant position having ordered over 3,000 CQS law firms to purchase its own training courses.
Brought last year, the claim centred around firms who were members of the Conveyancing Quality Scheme, an accreditation founded in 2010. Under the scheme, one of the key training modules focusses on anti-money laundering and was previously available from third party companies.
However, the Law Society changed this, instead ordering those under the CQS scheme to purchase it’s own AML training courses in order to maintain the accreditation.
Socrates Training, a provider who had previously offered the AML module, contested that this was anticompetitive. They stated that, as the Law Society was operating as a CQS regulator as well as selling the training in a business capacity, there was a conflict of interests.
Proceedings were issued in April last year, with a trial regarding the substantive issues occurring in November. On 26 May 2017, the Competition Appeal Tribunal ruled in favour of Socrates Training, stating that the Law Society will need to cease its anticompetitive conduct as well as pay damages to the claimant.
In a statement, Chancery Lane stated that as a result of the ruling it will review its training elements of the CQS.
Commenting on the decision was Director of Socrates Training, solicitor Bernard George. He stated that the ruling was likely to be well received, given that the conduct of the Law Society had been obviously unfair to firms as well as providers.
‘The decision will be welcomed by solicitors up and down the country, who again will be free to buy the best training available, not just what the Law Society wants to sell them.”
In regard to the total cost of the case, the estimate is just under £1 million. In a cost-capping hearing during 2016, the Law Society stated that it planned to spend up to £637,000, whilst Socrates claims to have spent over £300,000. Also taken into account is the cost of the expert economists for both parties; £33,000 for the Law Society and £56,000 for Socrates Training.
Purporting that the Society had adhered to CQS competition rules for the most part, president Robert Bourns stated that steps will be taken in light of the ruling.
“For the vast bulk of the time CQS training has been available it has been compliant with competition rules. I am certain that in setting CQS up, the Law Society acted in good faith and in the public interest.
“We note the decision and have and will take steps to avoid similar issues in the future.”