It is an honour to represent the profession on the important issues facing us – including legal aid, Brexit and the regulation review, as well as those revealed by the Profile of the Profession survey
I am writing this just after being installed as the 55th President in this the platinum year of the Law Society of Scotland – don’t ask about the mathematics as we still have to fathom that out.
It is indeed a great honour to represent you and to be given the opportunity to carry forward to completion the many important projects started by former Presidents Christine McLintock, Eilidh Wiseman and Graham Matthews relating to the Society’s five year strategy, Leading Legal Excellence. All three have been tireless in their search for better regulation, greater professional support, and liaison with Government and all those who care about or are affected by our performance, such as the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, Scottish Legal Aid Board and consumer bodies.
Over the past 12 months, as Vice President, I have been very lucky to be able to “shadow” our then President Graham. I learned from his enormous talents in bringing people together to make good things happen. We have had meetings with our counterparts in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and England & Wales from which it can be seen that the challenges facing the profession are mirrored throughout the four jurisdictions, and the solutions, whilst not always the same, provide for healthy debate.
I have just returned from Oslo and the International Bar Association Annual Bar Leaders Conference, which again provided a wonderful opportunity to meet delegates from around the globe. Topics included the rule of law under attack in Venezuela and Zambia, and much nearer home in Hungary and Poland. I was reminded of the profound effects of the upsurge in populism globally: the discussion centred on what went wrong and how it can be repaired. There was also an interesting discussion on Brexit with speakers from France, Germany and England & Wales, which provoked different emotions from the depth of despair to, if not euphoria, something almost there.
What lies ahead
There is no denying this is going to be a very busy year with major issues requiring attention. Back in February, Martyn Evans published his report on legal aid, following his independent review. It’s incredibly important we have a system that is fair to those who rely on it to gain access to justice and fair to the hardworking solicitors doing the work. Discussions are ongoing between the profession, the Society and Government. Legal aid is always a hot topic at our quarterly meetings with Annabelle Ewing, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, who is also a fellow member of the legal profession. There is a real need to simplify the system and to have regular independent fee reviews to make it worthwhile for those in our profession with this expertise to earn a decent living from it.
We have responded to the call for evidence from the independent review of the regulation of legal services. Our core governing legislation is over 35 years old and much of it is not fit for purpose. We have to take account of globalisation, and the impact of technology, with a regulatory framework that is modern and streamlined to assist both the public and the profession in the effective and delay-free despatch of complaints and a robust set of accounts and anti-money laundering rules, whilst attracting real talent to the profession with our required education standards for entrants, whether at degree level or other qualification attainments.
We cannot ignore Brexit, with an exit day of 29 March 2019. There are no changes in the legal profession for the time being, but we are actively promoting the interests of our members and the public to politicians and the governments involved. I will shortly be travelling to speak to our Brussels Office (which we share with Northern Ireland and England & Wales) and Scottish solicitors based and working in Brussels to hear what they have to say.
Our census of members, the Profile of the Profession survey, run by independent researchers Rocket Science, took place in May with an incredible 3,350 responses. We will have responses relating to questions on gender pay gap, bullying, harassment and flexible working, in addition to an update on the demography of the profession including trainee solicitors and accredited paralegals.
This will enable us to refine our strategy and our equality and diversity work beyond 2020 to make it more effective and meaningful for a modern profession.
Over the months I will report more on these highly important issues and on my meetings and travels as your President.
Please email me if you have any views, queries or observations. I look forward to hearing from you!
Alison Atack is President of the Law Society of Scotland – firstname.lastname@example.org