A “bold” new strategy aimed at establishing the Society as a world class professional body was approved by the Council.
A paper before Council members outlined proposals to take forward a five-year strategic plan, Tomorrow’s Law Society.
The new strategy, which updates the previous Towards 2020 document, sets a mission to be a “world class professional body”.
Society President Alistair Morris described it as a “bold strategy and it takes the Society onto a new plain”.
He added that, while it would present challenges, the strategy reflected the Society’s ambition and would “make everyone raise their game.”
“It is well thought out, well considered and the right direction for us to go in. I thoroughly commend the strategy to Council,” he said.
The final draft was put to today’s meeting following extensive input from Council members, Society staff, the Regulatory Committee and others.
It outlines how the Society aims to promote the highest standards of legal service, serve the needs of Scotland’s solicitors, influence civic society and grow the Society’s membership and income.
Growth in membership and income would require inflationary-only increases in fees to meet the strategy’s objectives.
A communications and engagement plan will now be drawn up and the strategy, which is due to be published in the summer, will be used as a basis for the Society’s 2015/16 planning.
The recommended rate of pay for trainee solicitors is to increase by 2%, the Council agreed.
The new rate, which would result in a salary of £17,034 for first year trainees and £20,400 for those in their second year, will come into effect in June this year.
Although the recommended rate is not compulsory, training contracts must pay at least the national minimum wage. The Council also agreed to consider replacing that threshold with the living wage over the coming years.
Eilidh Wiseman, Convener of the Society's Education and Training Committee, said: "We need to strike the right balance when setting this recommended rate – trainees are the future of the profession and we want them to be paid properly for the work they do.”
However, she acknowledged that some firms, particularly in the legal aid sector, could not afford to take on trainees.
She said the Society should continue to press for an appropriately funded system of legal aid to encourage new solicitors to work in the sector.
Last year, the recommended rate rose by 3% after remaining static for two years. The Council heard that 92% of trainees were currently paid at or above the recommended pay rate. The number of traineeships available in 2013/14 increased by 11% to 530.
Legal aid policy
A series of recommendations aimed at ensuring the legal aid system remains fit for the 21st century were agreed by Council members.
The Council was considering the report, Legal Assistance in Scotland – Fit for the 21st Century: Law Society of Scotland Recommendations.
The report said an analysis and consultation into legal aid in Scotland found that the system was overly complex, inefficient, outdated and underfunded.
It added: “Scotland’s system of legal assistance is a matter of pride for many. Ensuring that all those who require help from a solicitor, whether for civil or criminal matters, can access that support is crucial for a fair society and a properly functioning justice system.
“However, the current system is not fit for purpose. Since its establishment in 1986, there have been many changes to the justice system and to wider society, and it is time to take a fresh look at how we can ensure a sustainable system for the future.
“In the context of court reforms, changes in crime rates and prosecution policy, budgetary pressures, and more, we believe that it is possible to improve the system.
“The recommendations in this paper are now a starting point for a much longer-term piece of work – to improve the links between all those with an interest in the legal aid system, and to improve that system itself to best serve the needs of our society.”
The 18 recommendations covered funding arrangements, technology and changes to the system as a whole, as well as specific proposals for both criminal and civil legal aid.
Past President Bruce Beveridge said a huge amount of work had gone into researching and producing the report, which was a “fabulous example of the approach we should be taking”.
Further discussion and engagement with the profession will take place in May after publication of the recommendations.
A proposal to freeze next year’s practising certificate fee – which has been unchanged since 2010 – will be put to members.
The Council agreed to put forward the £550 PC fee at the Society’s annual general meeting next month.
A recommendation that the 2015/16 Guarantee Fund accounts fee should remain unchanged, at £400, was also approved.
It is proposed the retention fee will increase by £10 to £100 and the non-practising member fee should go up by £20 to £200.
A draft agenda for the AGM, which takes place in Edinburgh on 28 May, was also agreed.
The Council paid tribute to a number of retiring Council members.
The President, Alistair Morris, described them as conscientious and hardworking, while also providing valuable services to constituents and the Society.
Those retiring were: Haddington, Peebles, Jedburgh, Duns and Selkirk representatives Morris Anderson and Kirstie MacNeill; the member for England and Wales, Alberto Costa; Society Treasurer David Newton; former president David Preston; the representative for Elgin and Nairn, Neil Ross; Dundee member Ken Swinton; and, Hamish Watt, representing Arbroath and Forfar.