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Four in one

19 March 07

Report on this year's Annual Conference of the Society, which covered four separate practice areas at the same time under one roof

by Peter Nicholson

Four streams, one Annual Conference. Or perhaps that should be confluence. Delegates were caught up in current issues, and ebbed and flowed through the coffee and exhibition hall where refreshments were in full spate. Topics ranged from mainstream law reform to the backwaters of TUPE or agricultural property relief.

Enough of the fluvial metaphors. Suffice to say that the Society’s 2007 Conference, while differing in some ways from its predecessors, appeared to your editor to be well up to the standard set in previous years.

Returning to the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, the venue for the past two years, the 350 or so attendees were easily absorbed in the complex of large and small auditoria and meeting suites that fan out on various levels of the Centre. Possibly a smaller number than last year – are solicitors making use of the alternative forms of CPD now on offer from Update? – the delegates still hailed from all corners of the country and all sizes of firm, particularly the small to medium sized. These firms, it seems, still rely on the benefits offered by the conference setting.

It was Professor Roddy Paisley in the conveyancing session who suggested that lawyers don’t feel they have had their money’s worth from a conference of this sort unless they have been scared out of their wits. Paisley proceeded to attempt precisely this with a paper about developers, servitudes, missives and whatever which even he conceded we would probably have to read on the Society’s website to follow.

The other streams must have taken his advice. With trusts, you only have to mention the Finance Act 2006 to have lawyers cowering in their bunkers. Employment lawyers seem to thrive on complex legislation, but they would have to be made of stern stuff to cope with maternity/paternity leave, disability discrimination, age discrimination and TUPE in quick succession. And even those nice touchy-feely family lawyers wheeled out the bogeyman of the Child Support Agency just when everyone was settling down after a fine lunch.

Honourable mentions have to go to the four expert conveners – Stewart Brymer, Mark Stewart, Malcolm Mackay and Rachael Kelsey (pictured right) – for planning and chairing their respective sessions (especially Stewart for commending the single survey article on p 50 of this issue), and to the Update and EICC staff, ever in attendance to make sure things ran smoothly.

A few little frustrations were the unsynchronised timings of the different streams, which probably helped avoid a crush at coffee time but made it harder for those who wanted to pick and choose between talks in the various programmes – and the lack of a welcoming bacon roll on arrival this year, commented on especially by some who had travelled further!

Aside from the worthy study, there was much of interest in the exhibition hall. The main sponsors, The Royal Bank of Scotland, were there of course, as were Marsh, Callcredit, DM Hall, First Scottish, Stewart Title, TFB plc and the Scotsman, all of whom also supported the event. In fact the stalls included no fewer than 10 different software companies displaying their wares (plus an IT demonstration from the Registers), two search companies, two legal publishers, and the Disability Rights Commission and Lawcare, both of whom have a particular mission in relation to the profession.

As a diversion, RBS had on display the Six Nations rugby trophy – the only time it will be seen in Scottish hands this year anyway. And if you appeared to show interest in a couple of Harley Davidsons parked further down the hall, you might be offered a weekend’s trial – the thought of which filled my lunch colleague with horror. Someone else who got his money’s worth, then.

New Head of Update Jenny Paterson, able to survey the event for which others had done the spadework, seemed impressed with the outcome. “There was a lot of excellent feedback on the day from both the delegates and exibitors who were there”, she said. “We’ve also heard good reports from the conveners, who have commented on the quality of the speakers as well as the questions and feedback they got from solicitors attending their sessions. The Royal Bank of Scotland was a big hit with the Six Nations Trophy on display and, along with the two Harley Davidsons from Marsh, I think it added to the upbeat atmosphere in the exhibition hall and was a great talking point for the delegates – I lost count of the number of people up taking photographs.

“We are already looking ahead to next year. After three highly successful conferences at the EICC, we are moving to Aviemore. It’s important that the conference isn’t viewed as an ‘Edinburgh only’ event and with the election of John MacKinnon as the next President of the Society, it’s highly appropriate to hold the event in the north east as John is based in Fraserburgh. This will be the first annual conference for me as Head of Update and I’m looking forward to making it as successful an event as those before it.”