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President's column

19 September 16

International summer conferences demonstrated the extent to which the challenges we face are shared by others – and that Scotland shows well when it comes to devising initiatives to meet these

by Eilidh Wiseman

I am writing to you as the Edinburgh International Festival comes to a close and our capital city returns to its normal size and regular flow. How wonderful that each summer we welcome so many tourists and guests from all over the UK, Europe and the entire globe to our beautiful country, its cities, towns and villages. Our hope is that all leave with a sense of our famous hospitality, good cheer and kindly interest.

So it was for me recently when I had the great privilege to represent our profession in San Francisco and in Ottawa at the American and Canadian Bar Conferences. Contrary to what you may believe, these conferences are quite hard work, but of course it is always easier to work in a sunny city with warm and welcoming hosts.

Shared concerns

The most surprising thing about these events is the realisation that the same topics and issues are being worked through across the world’s legal systems, and most encouraging for me was how far we have progressed with our thinking and actions on many of the key concerns.

Take digital justice for example. Scotland, under the guidance of our Lord President, is making significant progress. We are considerably further ahead than some jurisdictions, yet there are always exemplars: in this instance Finland seems to be ahead of the pack.

Access to justice was a key strand in both conferences, and concerns around delivery are present currently in all jurisdictions across the western world. This does not provide comfort; rather it helps to hear what other jurisdictions are working on to try to move the discussion forward. I was delighted that I could provide details of our recent “hackathon”, a 48-hour event which is a pop-up innovation lab for lawyers, designers, technologists and others to collaborate and design sustainable and scalable solutions that alleviate pressing access to justice issues. This was the first hackathon by a regulator of legal services in Europe. That makes me proud, that a small jurisdiction like ours can be a leader and have first-mover advantage. You can see the results of the access to justice hackathon on our website.

I am thinking also of our work on the Legal Wellbeing initiative, another area attracting great interest across the global legal community. We heard of research undertaken by the American Bar Association by the Betty Ford Clinic, the first study of its scale for 30 years, and we are following up on ways in which we might be able to bring some learnings from this study to our work in this area. We need to remember “small is beautiful” and be prepared to move forward with innovation in areas where there is a clear public interest and a benefit to the profession. Watch this space for other areas where we can be “world-leading”.

Equality agenda

A further theme which attracted global interest is equality and diversity. Again, we have moved forward with initiatives such as our gender pay study and guides for both managers and employees, which were frankly the envy of many jurisdictions. Interestingly, in the US it is general counsel (in-house) who are really driving forward the E&D agenda and not only requiring diversity among suppliers but also insisting on the same diversity in their organisation and boardroom. This is having a very positive impact.

Keep the law civil

But for me, and us all, perhaps the most important takeaway was the call by the outgoing chair of the ABA, Paulette Brown, the first woman of colour to hold that position, for civility. Increasingly in jurisdictions across the world, a failure to act civilly is an alarming feature. I am speaking on this topic on a cross-jurisdiction panel at a conference later this month. Connecting successfully with others, developing empathy, integrity, humanity, compassion – these are the cornerstones of professionalism. As Mary Wortley Montagu said: “Civility costs nothing, and buys everything”. Let’s all try to remember this when we have our next difficult call or meeting.

Until next month,

Eilidh

Eilidh Wiseman is President of the Law Society of Scotland – president@lawscot.org.uk; Twitter: @eilidh_wiseman

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