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President's column

11 December 17

Dear Santa, I believe the Law Society of Scotland has been good this year and deserves something special for Christmas – please just don’t repeat one childhood trauma!

by Graham Matthews

Dear Santa,

It’s that time of year again for a quick review of how good we’ve been and to let you have a modest list of gifts that would be appreciated on Christmas morn.

First though, let’s just remember what I call the “Bilofix incident”. I was maybe five or six – it went out of production in 1959. All I wanted for Christmas was a toy Winchester repeating rifle (like the Lone Ranger). Even then I wanted to be a lawman, dealing with baddies, resolving conflict.

Anyway, letter duly written and up the fireplace. (That was our heating then.) No need for parents to check my handwriting. As if! I even left you a mince pie, a dram and a carrot for Rudolph.

Usual 6am start on Christmas morn. Still dark but a frosting of snow on the rooftops and garden. There at the foot of my bed was a long tubular parcel, beautifully wrapped, plus the usual sock filled with tangerines, other fruit and a lump of coal (no idea why you think children want that!).

Imagine the bewilderment when the hastily removed wrapping revealed not a shiny plastic toy rifle with pump action handle and firing caps, but a box containing pieces of plastic wood with pre-drilled holes and red and black plastic nuts and bolts. “Bilofix”, it said in big red letters. 

Meccano can be made into three-dimensional shapes. The only limit is imagination; but Bilofix could only be made into two-dimensional shapes. No bending into anything other than straight lines and uniform predictable shapes. Serious disappointment. I think I hid the shock pretty well from the parents who seemed unusually keen to know how much I liked this educational toy with enhanced motor skills. I’ve been overtightening nuts ever since (and I’ve just discovered it must have been old stock… Santa!).

Good marks?

We’ve had a busy and a good year overall at the Society. Membership is yet again up, with record numbers of practising certificate holders: 11,844 in 2016-17, and over 1,600 student associates. We’ve kept the PC fee static for eight years in a row. Our members have finally, by and large, got to grips with historic credit balances. Solicitors provide a great service to their clients and get huge satisfaction ratings.

We’ve had a tremendous CPD programme with a fantastic annual conference. We’ve led on Brexit and positioned ourselves as the go-to organisation for non-partisan information on implications and what needs done. Surely our new charity Lawscot Foundation awarding the first eight bursaries to help future solicitors deserves an extra treat or two, Santa? (Pecan nuts preferred to tangerines. 

Speaking of nuts, on the old chestnut of legal aid availability and spend, we’ve commissioned our own research into the value of legal spend at an early stage (read about the findings in this feature). Well, someone had to!

Tough talking

To protect the public interest and trust in the legal profession, as a last resort we commenced legal action to challenge steps taken by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

We needed clarity on how certain types of complaints should be handled, where the SLCC wished to use another court decision to restrict the Society’s ability to investigate matters already referred to us. We got an answer, not the one we might have preferred. It’s rare for parties on opposite sides of an appeal to remain friends, but we did. We also fought hard against the SLCC’s 12.5% rise in the levy. More than 850 members sent 6,700 emails to their MSPs, highlighting their anger and frustration. The issue was also raised by MSPs from different parties in the Scottish Parliament. We now know that there was just a 2% rise in complaints last year, in stark contrast to SLCC suggestions that in the first six months complaints received had increased by 23% and they expected a continuing rise.

We’ve had some tough talking over the new police station duty scheme and the Scottish Legal Aid Board code, but it looks as if we have agreed for the most part a way forward. 

The Scottish Government has launched a legal services review to look at the changes we want and the need to be a 21st century regulator and profession and, of course, we also have the legal aid review. We are providing research, information and evidence to both of these and solicitors are representing the Society and the profession on both review groups.

All in all we’ve been pretty good, Santa. Don’t you agree?

So what do I want for Christmas? I’m easy pleased. Just not Bilofix again (you know what I mean!).

Yours, Graham  

Graham Matthews is President of the Law Society of Scotland – president@lawscot.org.uk; Twitter: @grahamgmatthews

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