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President's column

16 September 13

This month's big events are the special general meeting and the Law in Scotland conference – if you cannot come to the SGM, please complete a proxy form so you can vote

by Bruce Beveridge

Since I completed last month’s column, the pace of presidential activity has been unremittingly intense (and both hugely rewarding and productive) – and shows no sign of relenting. More of that in another piece, shortly.

With the countdown to the Society’s special general meeting well underway, the issue that has attracted most attention is that of the potential for mandatory separate representation of borrowers and lenders in heritable property transactions. The Society’s detailed consultation among solicitors and others shows that opinion is clearly divided, with 49% in favour of a rule change to bring this about and 51% against.

However, at the AGM in March we gave a commitment to bring back to the coming general meeting a draft rule that members could have the opportunity to debate fully, in the context of the various changes that have taken place in the property market. To that end, as I write, the ink is drying on the draft rule that will be before members on 23 September. It is fair to say that the issue has proved more complex than many had anticipated, and working up a draft rule within the timescale has been highly demanding.

Given the focus on separate representation, members may be less aware of the other important business of the SGM. Among key decisions to be made, solicitors will be invited to approve a freeze in the practising certificate fee for the fourth successive year. They will
also consider both the 2013-14 budget and the corporate plan.

In recommending that the PC fee is held at its current level, Council is focused on the need to maintain financial stability amid the continuing economic pressures – indeed, the intention is to retain the same subscription rate for a further three years. This forms part of a re-examination of our wider fee-charging structure. Last month’s Council meeting agreed small increases in the retention fee and non-practising member fee, the latter to address concerns that the gap between the fees for practising and non-practising members is too wide.

Also at the SGM in Glasgow, members will vote on two constitutional amendments – one taking into account the effect of the planned court closures on the link between Council constituencies and sheriff court districts, the other allowing open proxies for general meetings to be submitted electronically, rather than only by post. While a relatively minor constitutional change in itself, the latter is part of our commitment, where practicable, to use technology to improve communication and engagement with members. This is a direction of travel to which we committed last year and are intent on maintaining.

Alongside advances in e-voting, a system of electronic surveying of criminal legal aid solicitors is being introduced by the Society to better understand members’ views on key issues. This will help improve the decision-making process – and should prove useful in gathering views on the Scottish Government’s potential consultation paper on criminal legal aid contracting which, if advanced, is expected to be published later this year.

Having attended most of the Scottish Legal Aid Board’s series of dialogue events with the profession during the summer, I do not consider that a compelling case for the introduction of contracting has yet been made. In the absence of any clear proposals, the Society has yet to form a firm view on contracting. The feedback of members will be highly important as this issue develops.

Members are also reminded that there is still time to respond to the Society’s discussion paper on Scotland’s constitutional future (which I would encourage you to do) – a short survey is available at
www.lawscot.org.uk/indyref

I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible at two events. First, the SGM on 23 September. For those of you who will not be attending, I strongly urge that you submit a proxy – it really is important that as many members as possible register their contribution to the issues at stake. Secondly, the following day sees the Society’s conference, Law in Scotland: Evolution or Extinction, where aspects of the future of the legal profession and the importance of leadership are among a number of big issues to be discussed.

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

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