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President's column

16 January 17

Brexit, legislation for the profession, and legal aid concerns are some of the “big picture” issues facing the Society in 2017, but there will be much else to occupy it in the course of the year

by Eilidh Wiseman

Happy new year! 2017 is set to be a busy one for the Law Society and for me as I enter my final five months as your President. We have much to do.

So what does 2017 have in store?

We are keen to ensure our education and training standards are flexible and promote equal access to the legal profession, while maintaining our “gold-plated” standard. That’s why we plan to consult with our members and others on alternative routes to training and qualifying as a solicitor.

We will also look at the current disparity between male and female undergraduates, while pressing on with our work on progression within the profession and closing the gender pay gap.

Also this year I hope to meet the first beneficiaries of the Lawscot Foundation. We launched the charity as part of our work on “fair access to the legal profession” to help academically gifted young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to fulfil their ambition of becoming a solicitor. Our Christmas #BaubleFest campaign raised a fabulous £2,500, which will fund a young person’s education for one year. Thank you to everyone who donated. If you haven’t donated yet, there will be lots of opportunities to do so in 2017.

My first seven months as President have been heavily influenced by Brexit, and it seems certain the final five months will be Brexit-fuelled too! As the potential date to trigger article 50 draws nearer, we will continue to meet both Scottish and UK ministers to discuss how we might best navigate the post-Brexit landscape and ensure that effective transitional arrangements are in place for when EU law no longer applies. We are also playing an active role in representing the Scottish solicitors’ profession and, whatever the outcome of Government negotiations, we will continue to maintain positive links with colleagues in EU bar associations and seek clarity in relation to admission and continued practice rights for our members.

Closer to home, we are hopeful that the Scottish Government will sign off our regulatory framework, which would allow Scotland’s first alternative business structures (ABS) for law firms. It has been interesting to watch developments south of the border, where many small to medium-sized firms have adopted new business models to continue their excellent service to their clients and communities, and I hope that this will offer new scope for Scottish solicitors to develop their businesses.

And we are making a positive case for change, following the Scottish Government’s commitment to review legal services regulation to ensure we have a modern, flexible system that can allow us to respond swiftly when we need to and which protects solicitors’ clients. More than 90% of clients say their Scottish solicitor is trustworthy and we are determined to maintain the reputation of and trust in the profession.

Unfortunately, legal aid is an ongoing concern, with decreased funding in 2016. We believe this lack of investment is eroding access to justice for communities across Scotland. Alarmingly, we are already seeing legal aid deserts forming in some areas because law firms find they can no longer afford to carry out this vital service for those in society who are often the most in need. We will therefore continue to argue strongly for comprehensive reform of the legal aid system, and we will publish the results of a review into the financial health of law firms offering legal aid.

These are just some of the things keeping us very busy this year. But we can’t do it without you – our members. We rely on your involvement – whether that’s through local faculties, as part of our committees and Council, responding to consultations, becoming a judge for our annual schools debating tournament, contributing to the Journal, or simply getting in touch about your concerns.

Please make 2017 the year that you have your say and get involved. Our biggest strength comes not from what each of us might achieve as individuals, but what we do and say collectively as a profession.

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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