THE Law Society is to deploy undercover agents around the country's court venues in a bid to expose unscrupulous solicitors touting for business.
The use of 'secret shoppers' at court venues to identify solicitors engaging in the unauthorised practice of approaching clients to represent them is one of a series of recommendations aimed at stamping out the practice in a new Law Society report.
The review group was established by the Law Society in response to the "unprecedented level of concern" by solicitors over the unauthorised practice and "the widespread disappointment at the apparent ineffectiveness of the Law Society".
As other aspect of solicitors' work such as conveyancing has collapsed, criminal legal aid work remains lucrative, with the State paying €29.3m to 963 solicitors last year.
In the district court, solicitors receive €201.50 (VAT inclusive) to represent a client for the first day and €50 on each adjourned day through the scheme.
The report by the group states that there is now unprecedented competition for criminal legal aid business in an environment where "unacceptable professional practices thrive".
The report states that the unauthorised practice of solicitors touting for business at courts "has dramatically increased in recent years and appears particularly to affect vulnerable non-national clients who misunderstand an improper professional approach".
On the option of sending 'secret shoppers' to courts, the 45-page report states that solicitors who approach the 'secret shopper' seeking out business would not necessarily be referred to the Law Society's Disciplinary Tribunal.
However, if this was deemed to be the first time they engaged in such activity, they "would rather be advised that they had been identified as part of a Society initiative and cautioned as to their future conduct".
The report states: "There are naturally potential downsides to such an activity, not least the fact that the media might report and sensationalise it."
Yesterday, Director General of the Law Society, Ken Murphy was coy about when the Society will deploy the secret shoppers.
"It would be contrary to the effectiveness of the so-called 'secret shopper' approach to announce in advance when the society proposes to do this.
"This is all about protecting vulnerable members of the public from unscrupulous and unethical conduct by a very small minority of solicitors."
Mr Murphy said: "The very practical approach of the review group to this problem is to emphasise placing barriers in the path of the intending wrongdoer, rather than relying on prosecution of breaches."
The review group's members include former Law Society President James MacGuill.