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Council forms a blueprint

17 March 08

Report on the Council's day conference "Investing in the Future", on the options for reforming the Society's structure and governance

Council members have set out a comprehensive agenda for change at a conference to shape the future of the Society.

Their “Investing in the Future” conference in Crieff examined the options for short and long term reform of the Society’s governance.

The President, Richard Henderson, said the 50 Council members and senior staff who attended had shown “tremendous enthusiasm” for change.

He added: “The level of engagement and constructive input from all those who took part was hugely encouraging. Everyone seemed to agree that change will happen as a result of these discussions and they came up with some great ideas how that should come about.”

The conference looked at a range of issues relating to the governance of the Society, and a broader assessment of the future of the Society and the profession.

In relation to structure, facilitator Alistair Morris said that while recognising the wide range of professional expertise that exists in the current system, there was a general agreement that it could be improved, perhaps with an enhanced role for the President’s Committee.

Bruce Beveridge, who led discussions on the structure and membership of Council, added: “The appetite for change was very consistent and leaves me very excited. We are well placed to move forward from here.”

Delegates made a number of suggestions, such as reducing the size of Council, increasing lay membership and reforming the voting system.

Austin Lafferty’s session considered issues including the role of Council members and committee conveners, standards and accountability. He said there was general agreement that Council should delegate more of its work and that the President should act as a figurehead of the Society.

Sheekha Saha said she had encountered a “huge appetite for change” when considering how to improve Council processes, some of which could be introduced relatively quickly. “The key theme was to have better structures and a better focus on what we are trying to achieve.”

Gillian Meighan, Head of Corporate Communications, and Farah Adams led a workshop on communication and engaging with stakeholders, which identified various areas where the Society could build on its successes for the public and the profession.

The future of the Society and the profession in general provoked some passionate debate. Deputy Chief Executive Henry Robson, who led the discussion, said critical issues such as how to reinforce pride in the solicitors’ badge and maintain the profession’s core values were discussed. “It was acknowledged that we have an opportunity to grasp the initiative and craft the future for ourselves.”

Other debates included how to extend the membership base of the Society, and the establishment of new providers of legal services, such as virtual law firms.

The views and ideas from the conference will be fed back to the Strategy Group, which will prepare proposals for reform.