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President's column

18 November 13

October's presidential diary was crammed with events, abroad and then at home, concluding with the "Profile of the Profession" survey report

by Bruce Beveridge

Since I last wrote at the end of September, the presidential diary has again been unrelentingly crammed. I fear this is in no small measure self-inflicted. October was another hectic month, starting with the opening of the England & Wales legal year in London. An event mainly comprising pomp and ceremony, yet attended by a wide range of jurisdictions not necessarily encountered at other events, it offers the opportunity to forge new links.

After the briefest of turnarounds, the Law Society of Northern Ireland's annual dinner beckoned, held in the majesty of the Belfast City Hall and attended by those of the stature of David Trimble. From there, it was straight to Boston for the International Bar Association conference. The largest international gathering at more than 6,000 lawyers, it may sound unworkable, yet is strangely manageable. Access to justice on an international scale was one of the dominating issues, from the critical importance of the rule of law - establishing, advancing and maintaining it - to ensuring it at a more domestic level.

We hosted a breakfast session on justice jointly with the German Federal Bars (attracting an audience of 200-250 at 8am), with speakers also from Hong Kong and Brazil. The debate attracted a truly international set of floor contributions and was judged by attendees to be extremely useful.

Another centrepiece was a future-looking session at Harvard Law School. Led by an eminent professor and attended by no fewer than 800 delegates - including a trainee from Scotland, studying for a Masters (well done Turcan Connell for allowing her to break her traineeship to do so)- this was a truly memorable event, underpinning the scale of change, globally, in the delivery of legal services. Your President was summoned to the front as soon as he stepped through the door - mainly because, rather than taking a suit, he wore a kilt all week. (More of the impact of which I shall reflect on, elsewhere.)

As a final comment, I noted there were half a dozen top Scottish firms attending the IBA, a welcome and visible sign of confidence in long-term strategic planning.

Profile points

Nearer home, I have since visited faculty events in the Borders, Stornoway and Inverness. Court closures, potential legal aid changes, the conveyancing market (and the real need to help the CML deliver on their espoused enthusiasm for negotiating changes to their handbook), dealing with the amount of new law that comes forward, and ensuring succession and sustainability, all featured heavily. I will continue my programme of local engagement from early next year; I am determined to get round every part of Scotland.

Then the Society's "Profile of the Profession" research (a bit like a census) was launched. It has provided valuable information on both short and longer term trends. Our largest study of the profession, the independent research examined flexible working for the first time, as well as areas previously covered, such as equal pay and discrimination. With more than 3,400 respondents - a huge thanks to every one of you - we can be confident of the robustness of the report's findings.

Changes in technology and more flexible working are clearly exerting a considerable influence on employment patterns.While 77% of respondents worked full time, the remainder had adopted other arrangements, such as part-time or condensed hours; only 1% had requests for amended working turned down. Also, 67% of those working amended hours felt their firm or employer was supportive. Almost two-thirds of solicitors were allowed to work away from the office.

Of concerns raised, almost half of those working amended hours believed it had hampered career progression by reducing or delaying their chances of promotion or becoming a partner. Gender inequality remains,with women more likely to work as trainees, assistants, associates, and men more likely to be equity partners, consultants or directors. The pay gap begins to favour men at around 10 years in work, and then continues throughout solicitors' careers.

Previous equality research led to work to improve equal pay, combat bullying and change the policy for those entering the profession. To coincide with publication of the research, the Society launched Ensuring fairness, creating opportunity: A practical guide to equality and diversity for Scottish solicitors (available on the website), to support the incorporation of the principles of equality and diversity throughout firms and other organisations with legal teams.

Our feedback suggests that many firms recognise the challenges of operating a successful business in today's (and tomorrow's) legal marketplace and are well aware of the need to embrace new technology, with automation and online services identified as transformational tools.

The need to adapt skills is also highlighted, with a suggestion that legal education and training must adapt to meet the profession's requirements in areas such as building relationships with clients and colleagues, business development, economics, negotiating, and using social media. New business models and working practices, such as making more effective use of the talents of non-solicitors, are also likely to become more commonplace in the years ahead.

Bruce Beveridge is President of the Law Society of Scotland. e: brucebeveridge@lawscot.org.uk

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