Standing up for solicitor advocates; Scotland's future; access to justice; lawyers at new stages in their career: recent weeks have illustrated what a range of work the Society undertakes for its members
As my presidency draws towards an end, the past month has provided a timely reminder of the sheer variety of the work of the Society, much of it focused on representing the interests of our members.
Among my more regular diary dates is the scheduled meeting with the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, James Wolffe. This month, the issue of solicitor advocates and their instruction by solicitors was once again raised, with the Dean suggesting the Society should take a more active regulatory role. The Lord President’s team is already considering whether solicitors should be required to show that independent advice has been given when solicitors instruct solicitor advocates from their own firm, and now the Dean has raised the possibility that a similar requirement should be introduced in civil cases.
Given that there has never been a complaint from a member of the public about this issue, the Society questions why such processes are required. Despite the absence of an apparent public interest concern, the Faculty has adopted an increasingly strident voice in insisting more regulation is needed in the instruction of solicitor advocates. We will continue to respond to this challenge and represent the interests of our members and the public in ongoing discussions with the Lord President, the Faculty and others.
Scotland’s constitutional future
Other key engagements last month included a meeting at Drumsheugh Gardens with the Advocate General for Scotland, Lord Wallace, to discuss the draft clauses published following the Smith Commission recommendations.
During discussions that ranged from issues around taxation to reaching a sustainable constitutional settlement, we outlined our belief that the current proposals to make the Scottish Parliament a permanent institution represent a political declaration rather than any matter of law. Although the legal issues around the nature of the UK’s unwritten constitution subsequently attracted most attention, the Society also stressed that we are keen to make a non-partisan contribution to further discussions about the constitutional future of the whole of the UK. Whatever happens at next month’s general election, constitutional questions are likely to remain high on the agenda.
Meeting the new minister
At Holyrood, we had an equally productive meeting with the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Paul Wheelhouse, who showed a real interest in access to justice issues and the economic wellbeing of Scottish solicitors. In recognising the connection between sustainable legal services and the provision of locally based access to justice, he touched on issues I have heard raised in jurisdictions around the world. This past month, I was struck at the Law Society of Northern Ireland conference by the similarity of the challenges we face – cutbacks in legal aid, access to justice, the economics of legal practice, rights of audience and the devolution of further powers, such as corporation tax in Stormont’s case.
But despite those challenges, the profession appears to be increasingly confident about its future. Our own survey of members found that Scottish solicitors are more optimistic now than a year ago. And that positive outlook was certainly apparent at two events I attended in the past month. From the enthusiasm I encountered at a busy new partners’ conference in St Andrews, to the excitement of an admissions ceremony, I was once again reminded of the depth of talent and commitment within our vibrant profession.
Speak for your profession
Finally, a reminder that nominations are currently open for elections to Council seats from Lerwick to London. As I know well from personal experience, sitting on the Council is fulfilling, fascinating and challenging, with members enjoying the privilege of making decisions on behalf of the vibrant profession I encounter on a daily basis. Nominations opened for the five Scottish constituencies and the seat representing members in England & Wales at the beginning of this month, and close on 23 April. Voting takes place from 7-20 May. Online voting is quick and easy – please remember to make yours count.
Alistair Morris is President of the Law Society of Scotland ~ firstname.lastname@example.org