Council reports 2012

Council Meeting, 27 April 2012

Trainee salaries

All trainee solicitors must be paid at least the national minimum wage, the Council agreed.

The aim of the new policy is to ensure trainees are not exploited and training firms do not potentially act unlawfully.

The Society will continue to encourage firms to pay a recommended rate of £15,965 for first-year trainees and £19,107 for second-year trainees. No future traineeship contracts will be registered by the Society if payment is below the national minimum wage, currently £6.08 an hour.

Trainees’ entitlement to the minimum wage was backed by a legal opinion obtained by the Society. The Council’s decision will not affect traineeships already approved.

The policy was adopted following a lengthy debate among Council members. They heard that an increasing number of trainees had made enquiries about unpaid traineeships, with the Society aware of 13 unremunerated trainees.

Jackie McRae, the Council member who represents new lawyers, stressed that many talented and hard-working people faced difficulties obtaining traineeships, adding that trainees who did find places contributed to the commercial success of firms.

It was also pointed out that training firms, which might be struggling in the current economic environment, invested considerable effort in developing trainees.

The Society’s Education and Training Committee was tasked with working out the detail of how the changes will be implemented


Constitution

Solicitors will vote at the Society’s annual general meeting on reducing the size of the Council by a quarter.

The final amendments to go to next month’s AGM were agreed by Council members at today’s meeting. They propose reducing the Council from 62 members to 46. Most members would continue to represent geographical constituencies, with others representing specific sectors and up to nine lay members.

Bruce Beveridge, vice president elect and convener of the Society’s constitution working group, said the changes took into account views expressed during consultation with the membership.

He added that the working group would continue to consider future reform options.

The possible effects of reducing the size of the Council further were also debated, with concerns raised that such a move would risk damaging the effective representation of members.

A full evaluation and consultation with members would also be needed before any further changes were considered, it was argued.


Annual general meeting

Next month’s AGM will consider the benefits of amending the Society’s conflict of interest rules.

The Council said it is minded to amend the rules that allow a solicitor to represent both the buyer and the lender in a property transaction, favouring separate representation. The issue was raised due to concerns about lenders restricting their solicitor panels.

A working party is to be set up to develop standardised practice and procedures and then report to the special general meeting in September with recommendations.

The decision was made during a discussion on the AGM agenda. The AGM will also vote on motions proposing a reduction in the size of the Council and whether to approve draft practice rules. The Society’s accounts for 2011 will be put to the meeting.


Retiring Council members

President Cameron Ritchie paid tribute to five retiring members of the Council.

Treasurer David McClements, the longest serving of the five – having been on the Council since 2001 – was praised for "steering us through some fairly rough waters calmly and in control" and ensuring the Society’s finances are on a sound footing.

Ian Bryce, the member for Linlithgow, was described as an excellent Council member who put in an "enormous" amount of work on the Criminal Legal Aid Negotiating Team and as a Board member.

Sole practitioner Ian Cruickshank, a long-standing member for Elgin and Nairn, made a considerable contribution, particularly to the Society’s regulatory work.

Dundee representative Scott Milne was active in work related to the Guarantee Fund, with the president expressing appreciation of his service.

John Hall, also representing Dundee, was described as an active Council member for his constituents, particularly in the area of legal aid work.

David McClements said: "It’s been a privilege to serve on the Council and the committees with so many individuals who are committed to the legal profession in Scotland."