Council reports 2013

Council Meeting, 29 November 2013

Fair access to the profession

A wide-ranging programme for improving fair access to the solicitors’ profession is to be taken forward by the Society.

Proposals for removing potential barriers to entering the profession, particularly for those from less privileged backgrounds, were contained in a draft report before Council members.

An assessment of the costs and resources required to implement the measures will now be carried out. A further paper will be brought to the Council early next year and then published.

The President, Bruce Beveridge, described Fair Access to the Legal Profession as an “exceptionally comprehensive report”, which involved meeting a wide range of organisations and spanned each stage of education and training from school through to newly qualified solicitors.

The report stressed that many barriers to fair access are outwith the control of the Society and focused on the comparatively low levels of individuals from lower socio-economic groups who commence the LLB.

It added that, in other areas, the Society is well-placed to act. The maintenance of high professional standards and the importance of protecting the public were also highlighted.

Council members focused on funding for the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice and shortages in traineeships. Other issues discussed included alternative routes to qualification, the availability of other sources of financial support for law students and encouraging entry to the legal aid sector.

Christine McLintock, Convener of the Education and Training (Policy) Committee, said: “This takes us a long way forward with an analysis of this very complex issue.”

The initial review of the issue was prompted by recommendations from the Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession.


Appearance of counsel without an agent

Discussions are under way to develop a protocol for proposing rules and rulings that impact on members of both the Society and the Faculty of Advocates, the Council heard.

The talks are currently taking place between the Society’s President and the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and, if appropriate, could later involve the Lord President.

The discussions were prompted by the ruling of the Dean on counsel appearing without an agent in civil litigation, which came into force in September.

Concerns were raised, and communicated to the Dean, at the lack of consultation before the ruling was made. The Society has since investigated the impact of the ruling on members and the public.

A report before the Council said the new protocol could apply “in the event of new procedural rules and or rulings being proposed by either entity which will impact on Faculty and Society members”.

The development of guidance for the profession is under consideration by the Society.


Presidential nominations

The Society’s Vice President, Alistair Morris, was the sole nomination for the position of President in 2014/15.

A three-way contest for next year’s vice presidency will take place between Council members Christine McLintock, Jane MacEachran and David Newton.

Alistair Morris, Chief Executive of Pagan Osborne, joined the Council in 1992 and is now its longest serving member.

Christine McLintock, former general counsel for Pinsent Masons, is a Council member for Edinburgh and the Convener of the Education and Training (Policy) Committee.

The Head of Legal and Democratic Services at Aberdeen City Council, Jane MacEachran, has been on the Council for eleven years and is the Convener of the Admissions Sub-Committee.

Society Treasurer and Law Reform Committee Convener David Newton represents the constituency of Dumbarton and has been a member of the Council since 2005.

The President, Bruce Beveridge, praised the “strong field of candidates”. He urged all Council members to take part in the electronic vote. The results are due to be announced at the Council meeting on 13 December.


E-elections

Members are to be consulted on a change to the Society’s constitution that would allow for a move to electronic voting in Council elections.

Sheekha Saha, Convener of the Constitution Working Party, said e-voting was already used in presidential and Board elections but should be rolled out further.

The President, Bruce Beveridge, said the profession has already given overwhelming support for a move to e-voting, quoting the 2012 survey of the profession by Ipsos MORI which suggested over 90% of members favoured such a change.

The consultation exercise will also consider whether e-voting should be compulsory or members should be given the choice of paper voting.

The issue will be discussed again by the Council before going to the Society’s annual general meeting in March.


England and Wales

Proposals for stepping up engagement with the Society’s third largest constituency are to be examined.

The Council member representing England and Wales, Alberto Costa, said the Society should look at what more it could do to represent and support solicitors south of the border.

He added that Scottish solicitors in England and Wales might also be able to contribute more, for instance, acting as ambassadors for the profession in Scotland and promoting the brand of the Scottish solicitor.

It was agreed that the matter should be taken forward by the Society, which is in line with actions contained in the 2013/14 corporate plan.