At the end of an eventful year, thanks are due to all at the Society for a huge amount of work, and to solicitors around the country who made me welcome on my visits
As I sit down to write my last President’s column, it is difficult to believe that 12 months have passed so hectically and quickly. In that time, I have worked hard to meet as many members as possible and find out how the Society can best provide them with the support they need. The numerous other events and functions attended have proved valuable opportunities to link law and business within Scotland and with other jurisdictions and countries, always ensuring the voice of the Scottish solicitors’ profession is heard loud and clear. Both my wife and I have been fortunate to meet some great characters and make many friends. Before every trip, I remembered to pack my kilt or dinner jacket, and only once turned up at the wrong place at the wrong time…
So, where are we now, 12 months on? The economic situation remains difficult and, unfortunately, there have been a number of casualties in the legal sector. The Society does everything to support solicitors who are struggling. And the welfare of clients is so important, not least for the reputation of the whole profession, that we also attach the highest priority to protecting the public.
We are still in the process of modernising the Society. Although progress is slower than some would prefer, myself included, significant improvements have been achieved. We have a strategy and a supporting corporate plan. We are endeavouring to make our Council smaller, more strategic, more focused, with 46 members rather than 62. We are aware that a balance needs to be struck between the size of Council and its ability to represent the profession. I realise that some would prefer an even smaller Council, a suggestion that would need careful consideration to ensure it does not undermine the effective representation of solicitors on Council.
Then and now
More than 60 years ago, the Society was created by bringing together the faculties and other organisations under one umbrella, principally to administer legal aid and to regulate the right to practise as a solicitor. It was, by all accounts, a difficult birth. On reading the chairman’s address to the first general meeting, I was struck by his plea for the disparate elements to put aside their individual interests and pull together as one profession.
Similar calls for unity have been made more recently during what has, at times, been a turbulent period for the solicitors’ profession. Some criticisms have been constructive, others less helpful. The Society is always keen to listen to well thought-out, sensible ideas that can improve what we do and add value, while bearing in mind that many of our activities are required by statute. My travels around the country have shown me that most members believe the Society is best placed to carry out the difficult task of representing and regulating a highly diverse and complicated profession.
Despite some difficulties, my year as President has been one of relative harmony. Of course, we still have more work to do to bring together the profession, but the Council and Society staff have made huge and effective efforts. Our next big step is implementation of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act and, in accordance with the overwhelming support registered in a referendum among members, to move forward swiftly to be an approved regulator of licensed legal services providers, allowing practitioners to take advantage of this opportunity if they wish to do so. Although the Scottish Government’s timetable for the implementation of reform has slipped, we continue to work with them to achieve a prompt outcome.
It has been an exciting and challenging year, and many thanks are due to Lorna Jack and her hard-working staff. It has been a particular privilege to work with Past President Jamie Millar, a man of huge integrity and ability, Vice President Austin Lafferty, whose communication skills have been invaluable, and Vice President-elect Bruce Beveridge, who also deftly convened the Society’s constitution working group.
Finally, thanks also to all the Council and committee members for their work and support, and to the many, many members who made me welcome round the country and at events throughout the year.
Cameron Ritchie is President of the Law Society of Scotland