Comment from the Law Society of Scotland on the main points in its annual report for 2015-16, now available online
Major political events may have dominated the past year – not least the referendum to leave the European Union, the US presidential vote and, of course, the Scottish Parliament election in May 2016. But the economic and legal landscape also continued to shift in 2015-16, bringing challenges and opportunities for Scottish solicitors. The many changes that have taken place are reflected in the Law Society of Scotland’s annual report for 2015-16.
Eilidh Wiseman, President:
“Clearly, the referendum on our membership of the European Union was one of the key events of 2016, as outlined in our annual report. We were determined to ensure the voice of our members was heard during the debate – and after the vote.
“We also took an active role in helping shape the debate during the Holyrood election, setting out a range of policy priorities – particularly through our #DefendLegalAid campaign and our work to highlight the need for root and branch reform of the legislative framework that covers the legal services market.
“Our work on access to the profession and on equality and diversity was also particularly important, and successful. To ensure the profession reflects the diversity of the public it serves, we launched the Lawscot Foundation to help academically talented students from less advantaged backgrounds through their legal education. And, as part of our equality work, we published the Parents in the Profession guidance and ran a campaign on progression in the profession, which focused on gender equality.”
Lorna Jack, chief executive:
“We completed the first full year of our Leading Legal Excellence strategy, which aims to meet the needs of our members and the public in a rapidly changing legal market.
And despite continuing challenges, alongside new opportunities, the Scottish solicitors’ profession continued to grow.
“Last year, we expected and planned for around 11,800 practising certificates issued. We in fact reached a total of 11,789 practising certificates issued throughout the year, with a further 344 non-practising members taking our total memberships issued in 2015-16 to 12,133.
“We also launched the first of our new affiliate categories of membership with the introduction of student associates. With 750 students signing up in the first few weeks, many clearly recognised the benefits of getting involved with their professional body at an early stage.”
Carole Ford, Regulatory Committee convener:
“One of the most significant developments in our regulatory work last year was the move to a trends analysis system of assessing patterns, helping create a better understanding of the flow of work through the regulatory system and any issues arising.
“Looking at complaints, we reviewed the length of time taken in certain cases between the discovery of business irregularities and the solicitor appearing before the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal. The review considered all stages in the process, from the point of uncovering the problem, through to referral to the Tribunal. Changes have been implemented, including more formal protocols for liaising with other agencies.
“Other Regulatory Committee work included discussing the Society’s application to become an approved regulator of licensed legal services providers and considering a move towards the regulation of legal entities, or businesses, as well as individual solicitors.”
John Mulholland, Finance Committee convener and treasurer:
“In financial terms this was a challenging year for the Society, with the move to Atria One in December 2015 and the sale of Drumsheugh Gardens concluded in January 2016. We planned for an operating deficit and the Society’s overall performance finished within the budgeted position prior to actuarial adjustments.
“Looking ahead, principal member fee levels were frozen and a breakeven budget is targeted for 2016-17. We continue to seek stability in fee levels, whilst prudently managing expenditure and monitoring budgets to enable the Society to meet its strategic goals.
“Following the sale of Drumsheugh Gardens, further sums were invested to provide a platform for future income and capital growth and the Society benefited from a considerable increase in market value of investments during the year.”
2015-16 in numbers
£11 million – our total income for the year
£1.7 million – amount paid out by Client Protection Fund
9,000 queries dealt with by Society’s Professional Practice team
1,580 jobs placed on lawscotjobs.co.uk
960 pupils took part in our Street Law programme
789 Scottish solicitors working outside Scotland
672 responses to Research Unit’s legal technology audit
28 Society colleagues participated in a corporate social responsibility day
16 visits by President to meet high street members across Scotland
1 new legal education charity set up
View the full annual report, including a report of the Society’s Regulatory Committee, at www.lawscot.org.uk/annualreport