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President's column

16 April 12

All the work that goes on at the Society aims to link into its Towards 2020 strategy and corporate plan, and that includes the drive to modernise for the benefit of our members

by Cameron Ritchie

The month of March was political conference season, at least for the opposition parties, with the governing party’s event scheduled for the autumn. The Society hosted a fringe event at the conferences of each of the Scottish Conservative, Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrat parties (in alphabetical order to preserve impartiality).

Not surprisingly, constitutional reform featured prominently, with the panel sessions we chaired on this topic proving highly enjoyable and informative. Importantly, they also provided the party members with an opportunity to debate the key issues in informal surroundings, with the Society as a neutral facilitator. It was apparent that the parties are still trying to work out the best way to conduct the referendum campaign ahead – manoeuvring for position, a bit of skirmishing on the sidelines, and the leaders talking up their respective chances of victory. As the debate progresses, we will continue to stress that any proposals must fit with Scots law and our legal system.

Thinking long term

I am now in the last couple of months of my term as President – and how the past 10 months have flown by. I have come to appreciate just how much goes on behind the scenes at the Society. The staff carry out an enormous amount of work in performing the principal statutory functions of the Society: furthering the interests of the profession; promoting the interests of the public in relation to the profession, and, in effect, guarding and promoting the qualifications, status, title and privilege of practising as a Scottish solicitor.

All of this takes a huge effort from our committees of volunteers and our members’ representatives on the Council, as well as the teams employed by the Society. Given the need to get things right, and carry the support of our members, the process of change can sometimes be a lengthy one.

The Society has a 10-year strategy, Towards 2020, and, underpinning that, a corporate plan. We aim to link everything we do to both, and are a long way towards achieving that goal. About four years ago, we set out on a governance programme, to look at all the operations and organs of the Society and ensure they complied with statute, our own rules and general administrative law, as well as establishing that all our actions were properly authorised and accounted for. My predecessors deserve credit for all that was achieved during their terms of office.

One step at a time

At last year’s AGM, there was support for a revised constitution – although not a two-thirds majority. Since then, there has been consultation and discussion with our members. And while it has become clear that there is not a great deal of appetite for changing the entire constitution, there is greater support for amending the current constitution to allow for a smaller Council. This will be put to members at the annual general meeting in May.

There is also support for our aim to introduce electronic voting and remote participation in general meetings and Council meetings, as part of our drive to modernise how the Society works and increase transparency and accountability. We will bring forward detailed proposals to allow wider participation in meetings for consideration by members as soon as possible. All the responses to our recent consultation on the constitution are published on the Society’s website, if you want to read more.

In-house debate

Another area in need of reform is the services and support provided to in-house lawyers. The Society commissioned an independent review to look at how in-house lawyers, a large and increasingly diverse group, should be represented within the Society’s governance structure, with one of the key issues whether the In-house Lawyers’ Group (ILG) should become a committee of the Council or retain its current structure.

The most recent meeting of the Council debated the issue in detail, recognising the fantastic work done by ILG to date and concluding that further consideration was needed before it could decide on the review recommendations. A working group has been set up to develop the best way forward. This important sector of the solicitors’ profession deserves the highest standards of support and representation.

Cameron Ritchie is President of the Law Society of Scotland

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