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Game of strategies

18 May 15

A team player, an organisation person: incoming President Christine McLintock wants to combine her experience with her passion for the profession to further raise the Society's game, she tells the Journal

by Peter Nicholson

Most incoming Presidents of the Law Society of Scotland have some pet project that they want to realise during their term. Christine McLintock, who takes up office at the end of May, has a different perspective.

“That’s the one question that as you approach the date, everyone asks you – what do you want to achieve in your year of office?” she admits. “And the answer I’ve been giving to everyone – I do genuinely believe this – is it’s not about me.”

On the contrary, the second woman to lead the Society in its 66-year history is firmly focused on enhancing its strategic objective to perform as a leading modern professional body, “one that our members can be proud of”.

Looking at McLintock’s career to date, we should not be surprised to see her put the organisation ahead of a high personal profile. As the outline in the panel shows, much of it has seen her play a leading behind-the-scenes role at McGrigors during the firm’s key growth years.

A board member (and indeed chair), she was closely involved in the strategy that led to the 2012 merger with Pinsent Masons, where she then became general counsel – at first sight a curious position for a private law firm, but one she explains is not unusual in major practices, such is the scale of the compliance and regulatory requirements. And having headed a team entitled Risk, Compliance and In-house Legal Services, she can claim with some justification to have embraced both private practice and in-house work.

Shared passion

That said, could we be entering a new era? Just as the gender balance reaches the point where women solicitors across the Scottish profession actually start to outnumber men, we will see an all-female lineup as President and Vice President (Eilidh Wiseman), alongside the Society’s chief executive Lorna Jack.

McLintock plays down the suggestion. “It’s the first time it’s happened, but I doubt whether it will be the last. We’re seeing more and more women coming into Council, which is excellent, but what’s important is that it’s people who are genuinely passionate about the profession and representing its diverse nature.”

She continues: “Bruce Beveridge described Lorna at an AGM as ‘effervescent’, which is a good description, full of energy and passion, and Eilidh I’ve known for many years – I trained with Eilidh nearly 30 years ago, and she’s had a very interesting and diverse career as well, so she brings a lot of experience to the team. But I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed working with Alistair Morris; I think he’s been an excellent President, and Bruce and Austin Lafferty before him, so I don’t think it’s about gender. The one thing all those people have in common is a genuine passion for the profession.”

McLintock evidently shares that passion, in relating why she decided to move on: “The Society was something that I was very passionate about, and while I was general counsel, there was no way I could have progressed with the Society and done more. Most of my Society work was in the early hours of the morning in between travelling, and I was keen to be more involved.”

She had already made a substantial contribution. Joining Council in 2005, she served on the Education & Training Committee until last year, leading it through the major reforms that produced the PEAT Diploma and traineeship. “I still go along as an observer because it’s an area of particular interest, and one of the reasons is that I genuinely think legal education is the jewel, or one of the jewels, in the profession’s crown; it’s the foundation of the excellence of the profession and of our members.”

Given her background, the Insurance Committee was also an obvious fit, and it comes as no surprise to learn that she was on the precursor to the Society’s board, and has sat on the board since its inception in 2009, as an elected member and then office bearer.

No surprise either, to hear McLintock voice a commitment to professional excellence. “One strapline that has resonated with me since we were looking at strategy, several years ago now, was ‘Leading excellence but ensuring competence’: it isn’t just about ensuring that everyone is competent, it’s looking for excellence across the profession, and also within the Society as well. It’s one of Lorna’s great passions, to be a high-performing organisation.”

Tests of mettle

In what ways will the Society be tested on behalf of its members over the coming year? McLintock recognises that while solicitors’ confidence has been picking up along with work levels, clients continue to demand “more for less” – a challenge for all law businesses, regardless of size. “There’s one thing about the Scottish profession: historically, they have looked at emerging threats and emerging risks and acted,” McLintock comments. “The profession has the ability to react well to significant change in the market, but to do that, members need to be aware of what is coming. That’s one of the functions of the Society, and one of our goals is to increase engagement and raise awareness.”

As practical measures, she points to the Society’s digital strategy, embracing the smartcard, increased digitisation of the court system, and the online conveyancing portal for which development tenders are being sought, all with potential to help solicitors drive down costs.

Legal aid will almost certainly be on the agenda. The Society’s recent paper, attempting to seize the agenda, stirred up controversy by suggesting the exclusion of certain practice areas from civil legal aid, and the recommendations paper now approved by Council no longer takes that line. Meanwhile, the Government’s position on contracting has still to be spelled out. “The important thing is that our members are engaged in that process, there is full consultation, that the views of our members across the board are promoted to Government and we work constructively with Government,” McLintock affirms.

An issue is also brewing with the Faculty of Advocates, as the bar pushes for tighter controls over solicitor advocates being instructed by their own firms. McLintock insists that the Society’s position is clear: “The regulation of solicitor advocates is robust and the education is robust. We have a reaccreditation scheme for senior solicitor advocates, so we think the regulation is adequate.” Relations with Faculty are generally good, however. “There will be issues on which we have differing opinions, but our job is to promote the solicitors’ profession.”

One source of increasing frustration for the Society is the stalled legislation to permit alternative business structures. McLintock continues to believe that ABS are inevitable, given the number now in the market in England & Wales and the predicted growth of the big accountancy firms. Without them, solicitors will find other ways of operating, “but they will be outside the regulatory framework, which cannot be in the interests of clients and I don’t think will be in the interests of our profession”. So the discussions over the Society’s regulatory scheme continue with the Government and the Lord President’s office.

Continuous improvement

Meanwhile, the Society is advancing its own project to regulate business entities as well as individual solicitors, along with its review of the practice rules to make them fit for modern conditions – and is about to relaunch its “Towards 2020” strategy, setting its goals in leading and supporting a thriving profession.

It isn’t just management speak, McLintock assures us: it ties in the profession’s core values. “We’re looking at the market and the changes to the market to ensure we have a strategy which is forward thinking, raising awareness across the membership of issues that are coming, but always underpinned by those core principles that I think most lawyers when they first come into the profession are very focused on – the role of law in society, the rule of law, fairness, justice and access to justice, independence of lawyers and separation of powers.”

Which, in a way, brings us back to where we started. To Christine McLintock, these are the criteria by which the Society will be judged by its members. “So my personal goal is to continue that work, to continue to increase our engagement with the profession, to deliver that continuous improvement in service, and to increase our relevance to our members on a daily basis.”

Christine McLintock: the in-house private practitioner

“In terms of my generation of lawyer, I suppose I’ve had quite an unusual career,” Christine McLintock observes.

Having trained at McGrigors, she practised in corporate and then banking law. Made partner in 1995, she became responsible for knowledge management, and then for the firm’s emerging drive to improve its internal systems, along with wider skills training for staff. As the firm began to operate outwith Scotland, her role – by now a board one – embraced complex risk management and compliance issues. Following the Pinsent Masons merger, McLintock became general counsel, heading the in-house legal team managing compliance issues across the firm’s international offices and into emerging markets.

She left to pursue other interests, in particular at the Society, but retains a consultancy role. Outside the law, her interests are “family mainly”: husband Stephen Gibb (CEO of Shepherd & Wedderburn), two children, one of whom is about to graduate in law, and a dog.

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[Some further questions and answers that we were unable to include in the magazine report]

Q. Usually in recent times we have had the President and Vice President coming from contrasting professional backgrounds, but you and Eilidh have both had careers with big firms. Is that a handicap in connecting with the profession?

A. I don't think so. I would like to think not, because of the diversity of Council and the diversity of people on the board. Obviously we will make it our business to ensure that we understand the needs of the membership, but where we feel that we need the support of others who are close to a particular sector, it's here, easily accessible. We all work well together. If you look at the membership of the board, we've got people there representing all sections of the profession, in-house, big firms, small firms, the high street, criminal defence.

Q. What do you see as the way forward for the Society in the way it regulates the profession?

A. I think the Society does a good job in terms of regulation, but there's always room for improvement. What's interesting is that in our polling of members, a percentage in the high 90s consider regulation to be of high importance, one of the most important things the Society does. And one of the reasons the Society does a good job is that it genuinely does understand what is happening. It's proportionate regulation, not tick box: trying to understand the issues, and to regulate accordingly, but also with the public interest very much at the forefront of the Society's mind.

Q. Are we looking at quite a fundamental change coming in the form of that regulation?

A. I don't think fundamental change, because substantially I think the regulation is sound and we're not seeing significant issues which would suggest that it needs radical reform, but we've looked at entity regulation. The underpinning of that is simply that the way law firms structure themselves has changed. It's no longer general partnerships, but increasingly law firm businesses are corporates or LLPs, so it makes sense in terms of effective regulation that those entities are regulated as well as the individuals, and also because the person contracting with the client even in small firms is the entity, it's not the individual partners or the general partnership. That makes a lot of sense.

The other thing we looked at was principles and outcomes focused regulation, but on consultation that didn't attract a lot of interest from the profession, so for the moment the next step for us is to review our rules and try and ensure that they are as streamlined as possible, as easy to follow as they can be, so they are fit for purpose in the 21st century. That's the next step. But it's not fundamental change. Interestingly the Scottish rules are a hybrid system anyway, because we have our principles – our conduct standards – and then we've got rules which surround them, so it's a hybrid system of outcomes and principles anyway.

Q. Coming into his term of office, Alistair Morris spoke of his unfinished agenda to change the Society. Where do you think it is in terms of change, and what still needs to be done?

A. There has been a lot of good work and we've got further internal changes coming through in terms of governance just to make it as effective as it can be. One of the fantastic things, when you get to grips with the structure and all the committees, is just how many people are involved in it, all volunteers. It was one of the things which really struck me when I first joined the Society; I just didn't appreciate the sheer amount of work that solicitors and lay members carried out on behalf of the profession and the Society, unrewarded financially but because of a real interest and passion in the profession and the law. I don't have up-to-date figures but in 2012 we had 740 people involved in committees, of which over 650 were solicitors. That's an enormous amount of goodwill and experience being brought to bear on behalf of the profession for the benefit of the profession, so clearly we want the governance of the Society and the committees to be as effective as possible, to get the most out of that contribution for the profession, but also for those volunteers, to have everything as efficient and effective as possible. So a lot of our internal changes are looking at how that can be better managed.

We'd like to see more people coming in through committees, being involved. Let's be honest, when people are working at the coalface it's not something they are necessarily going to be thinking about on a daily basis, but there's a huge section of membership who will feel that the Society is not relevant to them particularly on a day-to-day basis, and I personally would love to see more people becoming involved, covering the whole range of interests in different sectors of the profession.

I met a young lawyer at an event recently who had not long qualified, and she was talking about her admission ceremony as one of the proudest days of her life. I still feel that way, and many of our members really value their membership of the Society and the professional qualification that they hold, and that's what we want to capture and nurture and grow.

Q. To what extent are there still equality and diversity issues to be faced in the profession?

A. I spoke about this recently at the CBI conference about equality and the position of women, and the fact that although we're now almost 50-50 in terms of male and female, there is still a gap in terms of women reaching the most senior roles. Also there is quite a significant gender pay gap which tends to start being seen round about the early 30s, so there is more work to be done there.

There are other diversity issues, one of which is bringing in or trying to encourage more people from less advantaged backgrounds to come into the profession, and that is something the Education & Training Committee is working very hard on. One of the most inspirational projects for me that we've been involved in is Street Law, and that's going really well. We're now expanding it, following the pilot last year, across the whole of Scotland, and the interest from secondary schools is very strong. That's been really successful. And the other thing we're working on now over the summer is to create an educational trust to try and raise funds to support people trying to enter the profession.

Q. What do you think has been the impact of the Commonwealth Law Conference? Do you regret that there weren't more Scots lawyers there?

A. It would have been nice to have seen more Scots lawyers, but perhaps almost inevitably it's been an issue for the conference wherever it is held. It's hard to take five days away from your office even if it's only just round the corner, and it's a significant investment. It was a fantastic event; it was very successful, and I think that those who did attend have gone away with a very good impression of Scotland, of the Society, and many delegates were saying they would come back and visit again – they have thoroughly enjoyed their stay here.

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