President's report 2015

 

Full table of actions and results for 2014/15

 ActionMonthly reportStatus
NEWNew legislative framework (Project 80/20) To work with the Scottish Government and others to improve the legislative framework covering the Law Society and solicitor profession.This action was included from April 2015 and followed discussions with the Scottish Government after it became clear ministers were open to a new enabling Bill which would allow the Law Society to meet its strategic objectives.  A working party was established by the Council and an initial scoping paper submitted in May. A dedicated member of staff was recruited to help lead this work.  A full project plan is in place towards possible new legislation in 2018.Complete
1.1Consumer protections review We will endeavour to ensure there are effective protections in place for consumers by completing the Bowen review as well as the external review of our Guarantee Fund, taking forward the recommendations of both.The Bowen review report and recommendations were approved by Council in January.  Whilst there remain outstanding issues with the individual cases, the recommendations from the review have been taken forward. The external review of the Guarantee Fund was completed with the recommendations taken to the Regulatory Committee.  It was agreed that the name of the fund would change to the Client Protection Fund from 1 November. We launched a consultation on other aspects of the fund, which closed in October.Complete
1.2Entity / POFR regulation We will ensure that solicitors and the public benefit from a more modern, effective and proportionate system of regulation by reviewing the consultation on entity regulation and principles and outcomes based regulation and implementing the agreed outcomes.Following a review of the 2014 consultation feedback, the Council agreed early in the operating year not to progress principles and outcomes focused regulation but to progress proposals around entity regulation. A further more detailed consultation on entity regulation was launched in June and closed in October.  The results are being analysed and will in the first instance feed into our paper for legislative change.Complete
2.7Legal aid strategy We will help to ensure there is a sustainable system of legal aid in the long term, both for our members and the public who rely on this help, by considering strategic reforms and learning from other jurisdictions. A discussion paper was published in November 2014 seeking views on suggested areas for reform of the legal assistance system in Scotland. This received over 30 responses as well as input through a roundtable meeting and other stakeholder meetings. These responses informed the drafting of a recommendations paper, published in May 2015. Publication was followed by sessions at the Legal Aid Conference and an event at the Scottish Parliament. Recommendations from the report will form the basis of ongoing work through the Legal Aid Committee. Contrary to earlier indications, the Scottish Government did not publish a strategic white paper on legal aid during the course of the year.Complete  
5.1Strategic review We will ensure the Law Society is able to meet the challenges of a changing legal services marketplace by completing our strategic review and publishing a new long-term strategy which explores the option of new levels of membership within the organisation.The new strategy was approved by the Council in April.  This set a new objective of ‘leading legal excellence’ and new objectives around ‘assure, excel, grow, influence and serve’.  The strategy was published to our members and stakeholders in August.Complete
5.7Commercial income We will increase our non-subscription income and net profit by attracting new commercial and other partners whilst enhancing the services, training and support which we provide to our members.The commercial objective was achieved, with income increasing as per the budget target and delivery of three new partnerships and two new services.  Complete
5.8Office relocation We will provide a better working environment for our staff as well as the members and volunteers who contribute to the work of the Society by relocating to a more modern, flexible and efficient office building.  We will also ensure best value for our members’ money through the appropriate disposal of our current premises.In May, we announced that we would be moving to Atria One on Morrison Street and sell our current buildings on Drumsheugh Gardens.  The new office premises will offer more modern and environmentally-friendly surroundings for staff and visitors. We will move to our new offices from noon on Monday 7 December 2015. At present, the fit-out of our offices is on time and on budget.  However, this action was marked as not complete because the physical move was not completed before our operating year end.Not complete


1 Excellent solicitor professionalism and reputation
 ActionMonthly reportStatus
1.3Commonwealth Law Conference We will successfully showcase Scotland and its legal profession to the world through our successful hosting of the 2015 Commonwealth Law Conference.Following 18 months of preparation, the 19th Commonwealth Law Conference was held in Glasgow in April. Approximately 600 judges, lawyers and academics from many Commonwealth nations attended and enjoyed a varied programme with high quality speakers and energetic sessions.  The conference also included a moot competition, which showcased the enormous talent of law students from across the Commonwealth.  Our hosting was supported by colleagues in the wider Scottish legal profession, all of whom were involved in delivering the conference.  This was reflected in the composition of our content committee, which was made up of senior representatives from the judiciary, the Faculty of Advocates, the Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Law Commission, as well as representatives from academia and from the legal profession across the UK and internationally.  Feedback following the event was almost entirely positive, although it cannot be ignored that several senior members of the UK judiciary withdrew from the conference after a day and a half because the programme was changed at short notice and without consultation to include participation by Julian Assange.  This could have had reputational repercussions for the Society but, as it was a unilateral decision of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association’s Executive Committee, the judiciary made clear that they did not hold the Society responsible.  This event did not affect the delegates’ enjoyment of the conference.Complete  
1.4Judicial appointments We will build on our research and engagement by campaigning for a fairer judicial appointments process, which provides more opportunities for our members whilst maintaining confidence amongst the public.The Society consulted with selected members and various committees to formulate a response to a JABS conference and paper. This response was signed off by Council on 30 October.Complete  
1.5Smartcard project We will empower our members with secure digital signatures and provide a robust physical ID by progressing our Smartcard project, completing a roll-out to 75% of members and seeking feedback on usage.By the end of the operating year, we had issued around 6,500 Smartcards, representing 58% of anticipated PC holders. In terms of cards prepped for distribution, there has been 88% engagement of members. Cards have been issued all across Scotland, including Islands, as well as London and Bristol. 28 cards have been issued to members in 16 countries, from the Falklands to USA and the UAE.Not complete  
1.6Training We will continue to help our members and their support staff teams to develop their expertise and skills by offering affordable, accessible and high quality training throughout Scotland which provides a profitable income stream to the Society. This will include new accredited training in a range of areas in response to member feedback.Throughout the year, we held:
  • 58 conferences, including 1,961 delegates (2,127 last year)
  • 25 new lawyer seminars, with 222 delegates
  • ILG held ten seminars, with 433 delegates (1,138 last year)
  • Update Online: 64 online seminars live, with 593 registrations (39/324 last year)
  • Trainee CPD: 25 new registrations
  • Update Direct: first two open Practice Management Accreditation Courses, with 15 delegates
The overall position is that Update is expected to make a very small profit for year ending 2014/15 (following deficit last year)
Complete  
1.7Fair access project We will seek to increase the diversity of solicitors and ensure the profession better reflects the public they serve by continuing to review aspects of fair access and implementing actions from our policy findings.Two Street Law training events were held (in January and October), training 100 students to be Street Law trainers.  Street Law sessions were run in schools in Glasgow, Ayrshire, West Lothian, East Lothian, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen, with universally positive feedback from pupils, schools and trainers.  A best practice guide in trainee recruitment was produced and received positive feedback. Council also approved the establishment of a Legal Education Trust. Changes to the Law Society exams undertaken as part of the alternative route have been approved and are ready to be implemented at the next diet. Pressure of other work and consideration of an integrated PEAT proposal from a group of firms has prevented significant work on non-PEAT 1 training contracts.Not complete        
1.8CPD review We will ensure that our members have the appropriate knowledge and skills to serve their clients by reviewing our CPD requirements and acting on the findings of our review of post-qualification milestones and specialist accreditation.One of the key recommendations in the review of post-qualification milestones and specialist accreditation was for all such matters to be brought together under one responsible body.  This will be effected on 1 November when the new structure is in place and recommendations will be reconsidered from that date.  Proposals in relation to CPD requirements were considered at the October meeting and will be taken forward in 2015/16.Not complete  


2 Our members are trusted advisers of choice
2.1Scotland’s constitution We will help our members and the public to move forward the constitutional debate by playing a full and active role in the events which follow the referendum on Scottish independence and considering the implications for us as an organisation.Following the referendum on Scottish independence, we participated fully in the Smith Commission, making a submission and holding an event at the Society bringing together Lord Smith with solicitors from across the profession and constitutional experts. We responded to the UK Government draft clauses and made a submission to the Scottish Parliament Devolution (Further Powers) Committee. We made sure that the Society’s priorities for the UK general election for 2015 contained a priority for a stable devolution settlement for Scotland, looking for a stronger Scottish Parliament within the UK, a more accountable and responsible Scottish Parliament, and a more autonomist Scottish Parliament. After the election, and following the introduction of the Scotland Bill, we briefed MPs at the second reading and prepared amendments for committee stage. We also made a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee and gave oral evidence before that committee. Since parliament resumed after the summer recess, we submitted amendments for report stage and have been in negotiations with the Bill team and Scotland Office ministers over the summer and early autumn. We are hopeful that some of the Society’s suggestions for amendments will be taken up by the government or accepted in debate.Complete
2.2Becoming a partner review We will support members who take on the additional responsibilities and liabilities of partnership whilst better protecting the wider profession and public by examining the consultation responses on this issue and make recommendations for future change.A paper was considered by the December Board and by the Regulatory Committee in February.  Both agreed to implement all main changes, but stopped short of a rule change at this point. An operational plan was create to deliver the changes.Complete
2.3Access to justice We will campaign for changes to improve access to justice across the justice sector, helping members and the public to access courts through new technology, removing obstacles to dispute resolution, such as tribunal fees, and looking at other areas of improvement for the rule of law in Scotland.We have worked on a range of areas, including online dispute resolution, courts performance and resourcing following closures and the courts reform programme, and obstacles such as employment tribunal fees, which at least one political party will commit to abolishing within the next parliamentary term. We have expanded our engagement with other organisations, including joining work through the SLAB access to justice reference group, the Citizens Advice Scotland legal services group, and the CCBE access to justice committee. We have supported pro bono, including the work of LawWorks Scotland, law clinics in organising legal walks (and the Access to Justice Foundation in distributing that funding) and have published a first pro bono survey of the profession.Complete                      
2.4Master Policy We will ensure firms and their clients are protected by reviewing the long term sustainability of the Master Policy of Professional Indemnity Insurance and commencing a tendering process for the brokerage of the policy.The Insurance Committee reviewed all aspects of the sustainability of the Master Policy this year. The committee’s specific proposal for a radical change in the policy was rejected by the Board. Renewal was completed ahead of schedule for 2015/16. The tender of the brokerage has commenced and is ahead of schedule.Complete
2.5Requalification into Scotland We will ensure the Scottish profession can attract legal talent from other jurisdictions by changing the process of requalification into Scotland and implementing a qualified lawyers transfer test.The structure and content of a new qualified lawyers assessment was approved during the course of the year and will be implemented in the 2015/16 year.Complete
2.6First year LLB students We will seek to better understand the career aspirations and considerations of potential future solicitors by commencing a five-year study of first year LLB students.The survey was completed and analysed in January.  Results were shared with individual universities and the Education and Training Committee.  An article, Sizing up the Class of 2018, was published in the March Journal.Complete


3 Our members are economically active and sustainable
 ActionMonthly reportStatus
3.1Licensed provider scheme We will ensure firms have the flexibility to adopt a wider range of business models by starting the first licensing of new licensed legal services providers in Scotland.Whilst we continued to engage with the Scottish Government and Lord President’s Private Office, we were not able to submit a regulatory scheme for formal approval as planned. Work is continuing with a view to finalising a further draft of the scheme for submission to government. Work is also being done to draft the relevant schedule on charging.Not complete
3.2Equality standards We will work to improve the employment conditions for solicitors as well as access to services for clients and the public by implementing the new equality standards framework.The standard was launched in February.  The Scottish Government confirmed that equality standards (issued as ‘advice and information’) would be included in the Scottish Government tender for panel legal services. We also mailed the standards to all firms in Scotland, promoting online and face-to-face training options. The standards were promoted at an equality CPD event in Edinburgh.   We also published the third and final qualitative follow-up to our Profile of the Profession work, a case study looking at the experience of transgender lawyers.Complete
3.3Sectoral pay gap We will strive to improve the conditions for female solicitors by using our recent research and guidance to challenge the sectoral pay gap which persists in both the public and private sectors.The Society published research on the gender pay gap and gained considerable press coverage. We have published an equal pay audit toolkit.

A number of organisations are now working closely with the Society to help close their pay gaps.
Complete
3.4Private practice to in-house We will deliver new online guidance to inform and support solicitors moving from private practice to in-house roles, and help members already working in-house to develop their careers.The independent consultant completed her review of the guide. However due to re-prioritisation of in-house related work to focus on the set-up of the new In-house Lawyers’ Committee and other tasks, the next stage of work was not completed. It is anticipated that any re-writes and updates needed to the guide can be completed and the guide launched in the first quarter of the new year.Not complete
3.5Conveyancing We will support our members engaged in residential property work by progressing a range of initiatives to support the future of conveyancing based on the recommendations from the working party and member feedback.The working party concluded its work in May.  Plans have been developed to create a joint venture partnership with a software provider and ESPC to produce a digital property platform.  Testing with pilot group of firms went well.Complete
3.6Legal aid operation We will work to ensure there is a sustainable economic future for our members, a competitive legal marketplace as well as proper access to justice for the public by working with our justice sector partners and addressing relevant reform issues, particularly around civil court and costs reform, criminal and civil legal aid provision and models, and lender panel management.The Legal Aid Committee continued its work for the legal aid profession and access to justice for the public through regular meetings with members of the profession, SLAB, and other stakeholders. The committee commented on a range of draft regulations, including those relating to legal aid arrangements following the implementation of court reforms. This led to a substantial change in the interim arrangements for the criminal Sheriff Appeal Court, ensuring members of the profession and the public would not be disadvantaged on the commencement of the new court. The committee continues to monitor and report on changes in legal aid, including structural changes which have been made by SLAB to Edinburgh and Glasgow court duty plans.  The committee also provided comments and feedback on draft guidance and other changes being implemented by SLAB, including funding in late appeals, appointed solicitor ABWOR, taxation decisions, use of sheriff officers and input into the relaunch of Legal Aid Online, and revised guidance for the Handbook. In addition, the committee raised issues from the profession directly with SLAB, for example, achieving a change in policy to allow solicitors to receive printed copies of forms from SLAB rather than having to print the forms in house.  Complete
3.7Cost of time We will ensure that we continue to collect relevant economic and financial data for use in supporting our members’ firms and accessible reporting of findings by putting out to tender the annual cost of time research.The decision was taken not to run the cost of time survey this year and to focus instead on the cost of time tenders.  Three strong tenders  were assessed by the tender panel in September/October and a recommendation has gone to the Board in relation to making the final appointment.Complete


4 The Society is the professional body and regulator of choice
 ActionMonthly reportStatus
4.1General meeting reform We will make it easier for our members to take part in our decision-making processes by updating our constitution and reforming the operation of our general meetings.During the course of the year, the Council decided in favour of having only one general meeting during 2014/15.  It was therefore not possible for the working party to bring forward specific amendments to a September general meeting as originally planned.  The working party is now working to an amended timetable which concludes at the May 2016 AGM.Not complete
4.2Complaints handling We will ensure those who depend on our effective handling of solicitor complaints get an improved service by reviewing our own procedures and working with stakeholders in further reforming the legal framework for complaints handling.Work has been done to analyse the SSDT stage of the process. Training has been carried out for PCC members and the next strands of work are being linked in with the recommendations of the SLCC trends analysis report.Complete
4.3Brand We will ensure our members’ professional body remains relevant and engaging by initiating the first phase of a review of the Society’s brand.During the year, a consultant was appointed to assist the Society with the brand review. Phase one of that review entailed research of members and staff following the publication of the five-year strategy.  The results were reported in October. The recommendation of the leadership team is to proceed with a brand refresh rather than a complete rebrand. This will be taken forward in 2015/16 in line with our annual plan.Complete
4.4Mentoring scheme We will evaluate the benefits to our members of our pilot mentoring scheme and deliver additional training for new mentors. We will also improve the ways we support individual members facing individual concerns.We have matched a further set of mentors and mentees in this quarter, and completed a review of the numbers of earlier trained mentors who have stayed with the scheme. The scheme continues to receive positive feedback from the participants.Complete
4.5England and Wales members We will improve our engagement with, and support for, our private practice and in-house members who are based in England and Wales along with Scottish registered foreign lawyers, setting targets to grow member numbers over the coming years.We have improved our engagement with members based outside Scotland through our project plan, with quarterly updates to the Board. We improved communication via a dedicated web page, a regular newsletter and by surveying these members specifically. A flagship event and several networking and CPD events were organised throughout the year and a wide-ranging programme of stakeholder and one-to-one meetings was undertaken. We have improved our support to these members in continuing Smartcard roll-out through dedicated events and meetings and now issue a guide and FAQs for our members outside Scotland. The dedicated England and Wales member of staff adds further support for these members. Office bearer visits and targeted wider networking are raising the profile of the Society outside Scotland and supporting our objective to growmember numbers.Complete
4.6Sole practitioners We will provide more relevant and targeted support to sole practitioners by engaging external assistance from member focus groups to improve the planning, content and management of the monthly networking events.11 well attended monthly networking meetings (rolling attendance approximately 20) held in Edinburgh throughout the year (excluding December 2014). Trial of remote access video-conferencing of meeting held on 30 September 2015 attracted link-ups from sole practitioners in the Borders, Fife and Central Belt. The final meeting of this year was the annual joint meeting of east and west coast sole practitioners on 28 October 2015. The president spoke on LSS strategy. Panel session were held on the advantages of trainees and successful hour-long ‘speed dating’ and networking sessions were held among sole practitioners and Diploma graduates. Interest from sole practitioners in future meetings on agreeing the practicalities of sharing trainees…follow up connections possible from the speed dating event. Next year’s Edinburgh group speakers booked up to and including 24 February 2016. Glasgow group meets six-weekly and all meetings attract a rolling group of approximately 20 members. Edinburgh meetings were advertised to solicitor staff for their CPD interest.   All events advertised on LSS website, LinkedIn and Twitter. Wesleyan have so far attended two out of the three scheduled promotional events with sole practitioners and have been promoted in the quarterly newsletter, Word on the High Street, and by regular tweets. David Carroll of Wesleyan was very pleased by his reception from the audience on 28 October. Their next attendance is the joint meeting on Wednesday 25 November 2015. By agreement with line manager earlier in the year, budget of £2,000 was transferred to Update as the most efficient manner of supporting the sole practitioners and high street conference scheduled for 19 September, which Update  managed.Complete
4.7Local faculty engagement We will help our members from across Scotland to input directly into the policy and work of their professional body by commencing the first stage of a two-year cycle of 20 annual local faculty events, ensuring these events contain relevant, lively and engaging content.  AML talks suspended early in year pending decision as to replacement of Richard Farquhar’s skills.  By agreement with line manager, target of 20 ‘core topic’ visits thereby reduced to ten. Graham Gibson provided pilot talk to sole practitioners on 30 September re Kirkland’s AML system with view to considering rolling this out to faculties. Joint complaints avoidance talk with SLCC in Inverness on 26 October. Access to Justice team has visited five faculties throughout the year in response to requests for information on specific legal aid related issues. Professional practice team has visited three faculties by invitation to deliver talks on professional practice ‘hot topics’. Timetable of visits for presidential visits (including vice president) during presidential year ahead, starting on 10 September 2015, then early November and March 2016. Ten locations on track to be visited by president/vice president up to the end of May 2016.Complete
4.8New guidance We will ensure our members have access to relevant and topical advice and support by updating our guidance in a way which responds to the developments in law and practice.  This will include new guidance on niche areas of law such as immigration and pervasive issues such as around the increased use of technology by solicitors and clients.

Professional Practice have provided new guidance on property work including gazumping and gazundering. They are continuing their work on a revision to the guidance for Immigration solicitors and on Letters of Engagement.

Not complete
4.9Online practising certificate renewal We will make it quicker and easier for our members to renew their practising certificates by moving entirely to an online-based process, building on the success of the initiative over the last three years.PC renewal for 2015/16 was carried out entirely online. Following a comprehensive communications campaign and process improvements plan, a total of 99% of PC holders had renewed their PC online by 31 October 2015.Complete


5 The Society is a high performing organisation
 ActionMonthly reportStatus
5.2Public communications We will improve the service which we provide directly to the public by creating a dedicated and distinct team within the organisation to deal with general enquiries and correspondence whilst redeveloping the public section of our website.The public communications team was created to deal with general enquiries and correspondence, becoming fully operational in November 2014. The team has dealt with an average of over 1,000 enquiries per month and has gathered detailed statistics, allowing for the analysis of trends. This analysis has been shared with external and internal stakeholders. A ‘mystery caller’ programme has been developed to monitor and drive improvements in the quality of service provided to the public. The team has also used its experience in dealing with the public to inform the redevelopment of the public-facing section of our website, most notably in a complete redevelopment of the FAQ section.Complete
5.3EU review We will ensure we are obtaining best value for money in terms of our engagement at an EU level by carrying out a full needs analysis and an external review of our Brussels office.A comprehensive external review of the Brussels office was commissioned and carried out, including research with members and stakeholders. The Council subsequently approved the recommendations arising from the review report in December.  This included negotiation of a new contract with the Law Society of Scotland and an improved service level agreement.  This was concluded and signed in October.Complete
5.4Governance review We will make our structure of governance more efficient and effective by completing the third and final stage of the reforms which reduce the overall number of Council members and initiating a full review of our committee system.The third and final stage of the reduction in the size of the Council is complete. The working group on governance is focusing entirely on Board and Council governance. It is not looking at a review of the committee system, nor will it next year. If this matter is to be reviewed, the earliest that may happen is 2017.Not complete
5.5  Regulation understanding We will help our stakeholders and the wider public to better understand our regulatory work through new interactive online content, face-to-face engagement and improved briefing material.A range of project work was successfully completed during the year. New online content was created, including public interest videos and a new FAQ section. Constituency packs were sent out to all newly elected MPs following the general election, explaining the role of the Society and the services we offer. MSP polling for autumn/winter 2014 was used to target our engagement work at those groups with a lower understanding of the role of the Society. MSP polling has been agreed for autumn/winter 2015 and is under way, due to report in January/February 2016. Three editions of Law Matters were issued to MSPs over the operating year.Complete
5.6Staff performance pay and reward We will help to provide a high quality service to all those who depend on the Law Society by embedding a new system of staff performance pay and reward and capture learning for improving the system in future years.The system was introduced for the start of the operating year with staff performance measured across objectives and competencies and a pay and reward scheme approved by the senior management team.Complete
5.9Digital comms We will make it easier for members and the public to access information and to engage with us online by acting on the remaining recommendations from our digital audit and building on the success of our new website and revised e-newsletters.We thoroughly reviewed and developed the ways in which we deliver information to the public online during the year, including:
  • auditing how our website performs in search engine listings and implementing recommendations for improvements
  • providing additional training to relevant staff on developing content suitable for the public and training the public comms team on how to use our content management system
  • adding new content, including an extensive FAQ section (and accompanying promo video), a page showing recent scam alerts and two videos explain solicitor services to the public
  • carrying out our first ever paid online advertising campaign aimed at the public on the Herald and Scotsman online versions and on Facebook
  • upgrading the accessibility software on our website
  • reviewing changes to traffic to the public section of the website as a result of the above actions
 
Complete


6 Outstanding actions from the 2012/13 corporate plan which are not covered by the 2014/15 action list
2.6We will complete the project to launch a new and improved Find a solicitor service on our website.The new site was launched earlier this year.  Whilst some elements are still to be resolved from the testing stage, the launch project is now complete.Complete
4.2We will implement the final package of agreed changes arising from the review of the In-House Lawyers’ Group.The Council approved a remit and membership for a new in-house committee along with standing order changes.  This work is now complete.Complete