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V. good year as VP

20 June 05

First message as President covers an enjoyable year as Vice President and a promise to communicate on the many issues on which the Society hopes to make progress

by Caroline Flanagan

Well, here we are then!

When I was elected Vice President, the prospect of becoming the President seemed an eternity away. How an eternity passes quickly when you are having fun! The most common question I have been asked in the last 18 months has been “How are you going to write the Journal column?” To some I have jokingly said that I may emulate Bridget Jones’ Diary. That is not my overall intention although I may slip into that style occasionally.

As I write this I am not yet President – just trying on the shoes. Being the first woman President has excited some interest. I would be naive to assume otherwise. To serve the profession as President is a great honour. To be the first woman to do so makes the honour greater.

And already life is not without amusement. One American lady guest at a recent dinner in Drumsheugh Gardens commented that she did not see many women Past Presidents smiling at her from the portraits on the stairs. When I raised my eyebrows in surprise she said she only counted one! Who could this be? The sultry John Elliot? The smiling David Preston? Surely not the bearded Alastair Thornton? Diplomacy – for once – got the better of me. I did not ask.

I have been asked if I have drawn the “short straw” with the focus on complaints in the year ahead. I do not believe so at all. My first undertaking as President is the response to the long awaited consultation paper on handling complaints and you will hear much from me on this over the next few months. I would encourage all of you to read the paper and respond through your faculties or firms and give the Society your comments. The consultation follows on the Justice 1 inquiry into regulation of lawyers in Scotland, building on their recommendations and suggesting further options for complaints handling. The Society genuinely welcomes the consultation. We took on many of the Justice 1 recommendations. We have seen substantial improvements in how complaints are handled.

As was the case in the Clementi consultation and report in England, it is clear that the status quo is not an option. Change is something the Society has already requested. Perhaps the key to the consultation is in the title: “Reforming complaints handling, Building consumer confidence”. The importance placed on the perception of complaints handling, the Society’s most public face, is more than clear. I hope that a cost-effective and efficient reality matters more than a perception which can be addressed or, worse, change for the sake of it. It is encouraging that the Justice Minister, Scottish Parliament, Scottish Executive and even the Ombudsman acknowledge the substantial progress made by the Society. Please involve yourselves in the consultation. Whatever the Society’s response, I want to consult with as many of the profession as possible in the time available.

The other burning question asked of an incoming President is what changes I hope to bring in during my year. I am a realist if nothing else. My aim is not to second-guess what the year ahead will bring but to focus on communication. We have a dedicated and professional executive in the Society offices led by Douglas Mill. We have an enthusiastic Council giving of their time largely on a voluntary basis. We have had many successes and we need to promote these.

Some of that communication will be at faculty visits and visits to the large firms as well as international conferences. So far the highlights of my year have been in Greenock and Arbroath. Greenock saw your CEO and then Vice President sitting on a hill enjoying an ice cream like two children. Venues for faculty visits are usually hotels, city chambers, offices and libraries. The visit to the Society of Solicitors and Procurators in Angus was different – the “Sugar and Spice” sweet shop and tearooms in Arbroath (calories 3000 – v.v. bad)! Douglas Mill and I sat at the entrance to a packed conservatory (and well done to Arbroath and the faculty for the turnout), and did our double act feeling a little like Val Doonican or Ronnie Corbett! The visit and feedback was as important and useful as my subsequent attendance at the IBA conference in Lisbon.

Finally I would like to pay tribute to Duncan Murray. His quick brain and all-round knowledge, and his ability to assimilate information on unfamiliar topics will be a hard presidential act to follow. I have enjoyed working with him enormously. Happily, the Society staff and my incoming Vice President, Ruthven Gemmell, are also extremely able and supportive. To say that I am looking forward to the year is an understatement.