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President's column

14 May 18

My final President’s column must begin with some thanks, but I also want to repeat my confidence in the future of the profession, despite the many changes and challenges to be faced

by Graham Matthews

I was taught never to start a sentence with “and”, “but” or “so”. But that convention seems to be largely ignored. And in my final President’s column I want to thank everyone who has made my year so enjoyable. Everyone at the Society’s offices has been brilliant, always welcoming and polite. We, the profession, really are fortunate to have such great people working for us. In particular, the Society’s corporate office team has been great, coping with my legendary mistyped emails and documents and getting me where I need to be. Special mention also has to go to our registrar David Cullen for guiding me through Council meetings and, of course, no thank you could be complete without expressing my thanks to our chief executive, Lorna and my excellent Vice and your next President, Alison.

It has been a very busy year. Someone asked me for the highs and lows – there are no lows. There are challenges and at times frustrations, but the best part of the year has to be meeting so many of our members during faculty tours, admission ceremonies and many other events. Thank you for being so welcoming and pleasant. It has been my great privilege to meet you all.

There are too many points to mention in this last article, but here are some thoughts (and maybe I’ll become the Mr Angry of Inverurie letter writer to the Journal).

Capacity. To me that’s a legal concept. But one thing I’ve heard raised by solicitors who are about 10 years+ qualified is when our newer colleagues use it in the context of being asked to do tasks, as in: “I have no capacity at present; I’ll get it back to you next week.” The issue being “In our day we did what we were asked as soon as possible and if that meant working until 2am or 3am and sleeping in the office then that’s what we did.”

I’m still unconvinced that this attitude of working all hours, which you may or may not recognise, is a good thing. If a change in work-life balance starts with the next generation of lawyers, maybe that’s a good thing. A brave new world indeed. 

Coming down the track

I have my worries about certain parts of the profession, about legal aid and the sustainability of high street practices.

I have no doubt the big firms will continue, but even they will be affected by the changes ahead. We want to see talented individuals succeed in their career aspirations – which links back to work-life balance. There can still be a presumption that commitment doesn’t necessarily tie in with the desire for a family life, which particularly affects women in the profession. (On that note, take a look at the article on the Profile of the Profession survey) Will the ABS regime help resolve that, with corporations employing lawyers to service work on a salary, with profits to shareholders? There has been no sign of that where they do have ABS, so possibly not. Succession and ownership is another issue which also affects other professions, with ownership passing from traditional owner professional to third party employer.

Technology brings even more change. Will conveyancing, the stalwart earner for many practices, move totally online with no need for solicitors to handle client funds? Lawyers in Australia have managed the change and surely we can do the same.

It’s a sobering thought that one day I will need a solicitor to wind up my affairs. Okay, hopefully 30 to 40 years away. Will it be a solicitor by then or a computer program that will access bank records, Land Register records, share records etc, work out the tax, debit my bank account, sell my assets on eBay, mediate between my beneficiaries and pay out my estate in line with my online last testament? Watch for that future. It’s closer than you think.

But to more immediate things. The legal aid review is in and there is more work to do there. The legal services review is due to be published in late summer, although I’ll predict we won’t see legislative change the term of this Parliament. I predict that more regulation is coming – GDPR, AML and goodness knows what else. Having said all that, the profession is largely optimistic about the future – and lawyers have always adapted to change, however challenging it might be. So, on that happy note I now return to private client work where I may have capacity to earn a living for a few more years.

Finally, thank you John Anthony Malone. May you rest in peace. Without your apprenticeship all those years ago I’d probably now be an accountant.

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

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