The Society I have got to know is a very different creature from what I thought when I joined Council, and I want to hear from members, in my time in office, how it can benefit you as much as possible
“Hello, welcome, come this way, take a seat. Now, how can I help you?” Words or similar being said every day in hundreds of solicitors’ offices all over Scotland as our profession goes about its daily business. So let me open my first column as President with a version of those same words: “Hello, sit back, are you comfortable? Now, how can I help you?”
It is a great privilege and honour to be your President. It’s not something that I aspired to back in 1979 when I was admitted. Back then, the Law Society of Scotland was, I’d been told, to be avoided at all costs. Part of my apprenticeship was spent asking for permission not only to advertise the opening of a new office on commercial radio, but also trying to get approval for a jingle based on the words of a popular Irish folk song. The tone of the outraged rejection letters really said it all and, in fairness, that conditioned my attitude towards your Law Society until I joined Council some 12 years ago.
What a different Law Society from the one I had perceived! The buzzword now is, of course, that I had – and undoubtedly still suffer from – unconscious bias (more of that later).
Your professional body, through its Council, office bearers and employees, is a modern, progressive organisation, which is looking to benefit you, the member – and, through you, our clients, whether fee paying or an in-house employer – as much as possible. So, as I go around the faculties on visits, please tell me what we are doing right for you, but also what more we can do. I know from my own experience that most of us have no idea of the amount of work done on our behalf.
Your Society produces copious documents on law reform, various consultations, business plans and potential rule changes. You name it – someone in the Society is working on it. So, to all of those working at the Society, ably assisted by our amazing army of unpaid volunteers, we have to say – thank you.
We always need more volunteers to sit on our committees and working parties and respond to consultations. We have great videoconference facilities so you can volunteer and take part wherever you are based. Yes, that includes all you international members! Please, get involved.
Prior to writing this, I looked at the first columns of previous incoming Presidents. None predicted the issues that would dominate their term in office, so I’ll stick my neck out (bearing in mind that, as I write this, the UK general election is just about to take place) and predict that the main topics next year will still be about Brexit, the complaints system and legal aid. I’m fortunate to be following on from Past President Eilidh Wiseman, who has set the scene for me in her world-class presentations at conferences on five continents. Equally, it is very comforting to have Alison Atack – with her extensive experience of Council and regulatory matters – as Vice President. Truly, as a male President following on from Christine McLintock and Eilidh, and being followed by Alison, I really am the thorn between three roses.
When I initially thought about this column, I had considered indulging in a rant over certain matters – legal aid, threats to the profession, technology that doesn’t always work, scamsters and IT hackers – but that’s for later.
Graham Matthews is President of the Law Society of Scotland
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