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Member support: the next level

17 August 09

The Society's Director of Representation and Professional Support, a new position, explains how his role will help enhance member services

by Neil Stevenson

The Society is a membership body, and members are at its heart. It is our job to make sure that members feel we represent their views in key debates relevant to the sector and are there to support them and their businesses throughout their careers – and that means listening to what members want and checking with them regularly that we are delivering.

It is the nature of a professional body that it has a dual role. Members will always quickly comment on our regulatory functions. This is a key feature of what we do to protect the solicitor “brand” and enhance the competitive position of all members by demonstrating to the public and business clients why trust and confidence can be placed in solicitors above other advisers. I’m delighted to have been given the brief to develop another key element of our work, representing and supporting our members. I look forward to working with Lorna Jack and the senior team at the Society to make sure we deliver value and demonstrable outcomes.

The creation of this role is recognition of the importance of this aspect of the Society’s work and will give us the opportunity to build on and develop work already ongoing, as well as drive forward new projects and initiatives. We’re planning to canvass views on the future in a variety of ways to give every member the chance to contribute, and I’d encourage you to become involved. We are about to publish an online survey (a highly cost-effective way to gain views) and are already engaged in specific discussions looking at sectors of the profession and how we can assist.

Supporting sector interests

Early work has already identified different groups within the profession, and considered how well the Society supports each of these and what we might be able to offer in the future. For example, we have spoken to partners at large firms about what they expect in relation to our development of international business opportunities, and are developing an action plan for them to give feedback on. We have a meeting set up with deans of local faculties, to discuss how we can ensure we are working with solicitors at a local level across Scotland; we are in discussions with HR managers in law firms on how we might support more efficient training and development; we are continuing to liaise with the In-house Lawyers Group, Scottish Young Lawyers Association, and the Scottish Paralegal Association and have specific programmes of work to support these groups. We will be reaching out further and wider in the coming weeks and months.

Showing that our members’ views are the foundation of all our work is a start to a more engaged relationship, but that needs to be followed up with action. Before the end of this year, members should be increasingly aware of more campaigning work by the Society on behalf of the profession, with clear information easily accessible on how we are representing our members’ views. Around the same time we should be able to report on some of the business development projects we have planned to assist members build business links and grow their share of the legal services market.

It is, of course, a challenging time to arrive in post, due to the current economic situation. The impact on our member firms and the Scottish economy in general is being closely monitored, and we know that for us at the Society, this must mean delivering more to our members out of a reduced income – using creative means, from beneficial partnerships, sponsorship or outsourcing, to help our members. The debates leading up to the May AGM demonstrated that members care strongly about the Society and its work, but want to make sure that clear and transparent reporting on resources and outcomes are available and that we can account for our investments and the benefits delivered to the profession.

Solid foundations

Part of my confidence is because I am forming a cohesive team from areas which already deliver huge value to the profession, and which provide a strong base to build from. Bruce Ritchie and his team deal with over 20,000 professional practice inquiries a year, as well as securing benefit for our members such as the recent 12% rise in pre-action protocol instruction fees. Sarah Prior and her Update team run over 100 events with 5,000 members attending each year, and feedback we receive is highly positive. The whole team has worked with Charlotta Cederqvist, our business development manager, to secure sponsorship to underwrite these, which sits alongside Charlotta’s work in developing commercial services. Karen Chambers has also joined the team, to focus on representing and supporting lawyers in legal aid practice, something she believes in passionately having been a solicitor in this field. The panel summary shows just how many areas we can already assist members with.

The Society is your professional body; and while the new team continues to work hard to deliver, we can always do better. We value feedback and new ideas. I’d be delighted to hear individually from members of the profession who have particular views to share, and would encourage people to respond to our upcoming survey and other requests for views and opinions. Effective regulation is a vital component part of any profession, but it is how we act collegiately to represent our views and support each other that define us as a profession, something which leaves me excited and enthused at being part of a core area of the Society’s work.

Neil Alan Stevenson, Director of Representation and Professional Support.

“I’ve enjoyed meeting many members during my first six months, but a consistent theme of discussion was that our work to represent and support members needs to be both more visible and more effective. This will be a key theme of work for the rest of 2009 and into next year, and I hope members quickly see the change. I am thrilled that Neil is taking up this key leadership post and is, together with colleagues, driving forward these changes.”

Lorna Jack, Chief Executive

“The Professional Practice team is one of the frontline services for members, offering advice to hundreds of lawyers a week. The new structure will assist us in identifying key concerns the profession have, and acting immediately to address these.” – Bruce Ritchie, Director of Professional Practice


“Being better trained, always up to date, and more highly skilled are key competitive advantages for solicitors in competition with others offering legal services and advice. In the coming months our CPD programme will develop with new event formats, online learning, developmental series and tools to assist all our members.” – Sarah Prior, Events Manager

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