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President's column

19 January 15

2015 will see the Society reviewing its strategy, and the way it regulates the profession – a profession of changing demographics, but one that retains the public's trust and confidence

by Alistair Morris

As ever, the new year provides an ideal opportunity to both reflect on recent events and consider what lies in the near future. It is timely, then, that the Society finished one phase of a review of our strategic direction in 2014 and will progress the next stage this year. As a result of the reassessment of our Towards 2020 strategy, I will lead a working party that aims to produce a refreshed strategy that better focuses on the regulatory and workforce needs of the profession, hopefully by the summer. Given the pace and extent of change, it is essential that we remain innovative and open to new ideas.

Likewise, having last year considered fundamental changes to the way we regulate Scottish solicitors, we will explore in greater detail the implications of regulating firms as entities, as well as individual solicitors. Consultations with the profession suggested an appetite for moving towards entity regulation – while there was less enthusiasm for introducing a principles-focused form of regulation – to ensure the system remains fair and proportionate. During 2015, we will look at potential issues raised, and possible charging models, while also reviewing our rules and guidance. The effective regulation of solicitors protects the public and enhances the reputation and professionalism of our members. As such, it is among the Society’s most important work.

In good health

As touched on last month, the profession is changing too. An all-time high figure of 11,000 practising solicitors indicates its health during a time of economic difficulty for many. Solicitors play a crucial role in our society and economy, helping clients with a huge range of legal issues, often at critical times in their lives, and it is encouraging that their numbers continue to grow. Our statistics show that there is now one practising solicitor for every 500 Scots. The average age of entry is 26, and 19% have qualified in the past five years.

The fact that so many young people see their future in the law – 56% of solicitors are under 45 – and increasing numbers of women are entering the profession also gives cause for optimism: 69% of female solicitors are currently under 45 years, in contrast to 43% of male solicitors.

Other figures that help to complete a fascinating snapshot include that more than one quarter of solicitors (28%) work in-house, in the private or public sector. Around 750 organisations that are not law firms employ Scottish solicitors, approximately 250 of those in England & Wales and almost 100 elsewhere in the world. In private practice, 33% of solicitors are employed at firms with 10 or more partners, and 6% are sole practitioners.

Could do better

Despite the many positive signs, our equality and diversity work shows that there is no room for complacency. A gender pay gap of up to 42% continues to exist, despite a decade of research and supportive guidance across a whole range of equality issues. With that in mind, the Society’s Equality and Diversity Strategy, published this month, will focus on areas where insufficient progress has been made. As well as equal pay, this will include issues around progression and work patterns, not least the impact of maternity leave on the potential to becoming a partner, and the accessibility of law firms to clients with impairments. Significant advances have been made in recent years, but more must be done. The Society will drive forward that change, not least by promoting the business benefits of equality and diversity.

In considering the overall health of the profession, the public’s views must remain uppermost in our minds. It is reassuring that independent research commissioned by the Society, published last month, showed high levels of trust in Scottish solicitors. Of those who had used a solicitor in the past five years, 97% said he or she was either very or fairly trustworthy, with 87% describing solicitors overall as very or fairly trustworthy. A total of 89% of those polled described their solicitor as an expert in their area of law, with the same figure agreeing that he or she had provided good customer service.

After a well-earned break over the festive period, we must all strive to maintain such high standards, in 2015 and beyond.

Alistair Morris is President of the Law Society of Scotland ~ president@lawscot.org.uk

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