General meetings

The Society usually holds an annual general meeting (AGM) in the spring.

The AGM considers the annual report and the practising certificate fee for Scottish solicitors for the forthcoming year. The Society's corporate plan and budget are also reported at the AGM.

The general meetings are open to all members of the Society. Motions can be raised at the meetings by both the Council of the Society and individual members.

AGM 2016

A report from our 2016 Annual General Meeting which was held on Thursday 26 May 2016 at the Law Society offices at Atria One, 144 Morrison Street, Edinburgh.

AGM 2016 report

The meeting began with outgoing president Christine McLintock paying tribute to past president Michael Park CBE who sadly passed away recently. She spoke about all of the work Michael had done to represent Scottish solicitors. She added: “We were sad to hear the news of his death and extend our condolences to Michael’s family at this difficult time.”

Christine then gave a short speech summing up her 12 months in office. During her speech she said:

“It has been a wonderful, challenging and productive year. We have launched an ambitious new strategy focused on continuous improvement and Leading Legal Excellence.  We have moved into these wonderful new premises, which better reflect a modern, adaptable and successful Scottish legal profession.

“We have seen the profession become majority female for the first time and done some ground-breaking work on equality and diversity.  And another highlight for me, we announced news of our exciting Lawscot Foundation.”

Christine finished her speech by thanking Alistair Morris, past president, who was standing down from the Law Society council after 24 years for his service to the profession. She also welcomed incoming president Eilidh Wiseman.

Lorna Jack, chief executive, gave members an update on our operational plan and new five year strategy which is intended to ensure the Society is a bolder, more ambitious and more effective world class professional body. Lorna explained that we are making great progress across all 28 projects with the vast majority expected to be completed on time. The major projects include:

  • A legislative change programme
  • Reforming our post qualifying accreditation system
  • Justice reform including legal aid
  • Member smartcard roll-out
  • Implications of the EU referendum

Lorna also highlighted again an important change that we are making. She said “We have recently appointed leading insurance brokers Lockton to administer and broker our Master Policy of professional indemnity insurance with effect from 1 January 2017.

“The decision to change brokers was the result of a comprehensive and open tender process which started nearly a year ago in June 2015.  This tender was carried out by a specialist panel of practitioners drawn from the Society’s insurance committee. The panel’s recommendation to the Insurance committee, Board and ultimately Council, to change brokers was based on a range of factors and was taken very seriously. The factors included Lockton’s brokering and placement plans; their service levels; their proposed innovation especially in the area of online renewal and their commitment to the long term sustainability of the Master Policy.”

Lorna concluded by thanking current broker Marsh “I want to take the opportunity to put on record our gratitude for the great working relationship we have had with Marsh and Alistair Sim and Russell Laing in particular.”

The AGM, which was attended by 35 solicitors, went on to approve freezing the 2016/17 Practising Certificate fee at £550 for the seventh consecutive year. The accounts fee and also fees for new solicitors, non-practising members and those on the roll were set at the April Council meeting. 

In other business, draft amendments to the practice rules relating to the civil legal aid quality assurance scheme were also passed. Changes to our constitution relating to voting at the AGM and office bearers were also approved by members.

Statements of our accounts; the client protection fund (formerly the guarantee fund); and the Scottish Solicitors' Benevolent Fund as well as reports from the audit committee and in-house lawyers' group committee are available to view here.

AGM 2015

AGM report, 28 May 2015

The full draft minute of the 2015 AGM is available to view.

AGM report

The Society is to move from its current headquarters to more modern premises in Edinburgh, it was announced at today’s annual general meeting. 

Members heard that the offices at Drumsheugh Gardens, the Society’s home for 47 years, were becoming “increasingly unfit for purpose and expensive to maintain”. 

The Chief Executive, Lorna Jack, told the AGM that the current buildings had been sold and, by the end of the year, the Society would move to Atria One, Morrison Street, which offered improved, more environmentally-friendly surroundings for staff and visitors. 

She added: “After 47 years, the Law Society offices at Drumsheugh Gardens are increasingly unfit for purpose and expensive to maintain. It’s worth saying that we did look carefully at reconfiguring Drumsheugh Gardens. However, planning restrictions and the cost of work severely restricted our options. 

“Your Law Society Council approved the move after reviewing all the financial and operational work. Council members are convinced that selling our existing offices and moving to new premises is the right long-term solution which will allow the Law Society to improve its work and provide a better service for members and the public. 

“Thanks to the very favourable terms which we’ve negotiated for the new premises, along with savings in our operating budget, we can complete this office move without the need for any increase in the practising certificate fee. In fact, we are proposing to freeze the PC fee for yet another year. 

“There are a number of options available to us in terms of the money raised from the sale of our current premises. We think the right thing to do is to invest that money in order to provide an income stream over future years. This would ensure that existing members and future solicitors all benefit in some way.” 

The AGM, which was attended by around 40 solicitors, went on to approve freezing the 2015/16 PC fee at £550 for the sixth consecutive year. The accounts fee and also fees for new solicitors, non-practising members and those on the roll were set at the April Council meeting

In other business, members were given an update on the Society’s operational plan and new strategy, which is intended to ensure the Society is a “bolder, more ambitious and more effective” world class professional body. A draft amendment to the practice rule on the ARTL mandates was also passed. 

Members heard statements of the accounts of the Society, the Guarantee Fund and the Scottish Solicitors' Benevolent Fund as well as reports from the Audit Committee and In-House Lawyers' Group.

SGM 2014

SGM report, 24 September 2014

SGM report

The practising certificate for Scottish solicitors is to be frozen for the fifth year in succession, following a vote at the Law Society’s special general meeting in Glasgow today.

A motion to keep the fee level at £550 was approved unopposed by members at the SGM.

Treasurer David Newton explained that inflationary increases in expenditure would be financed through a £10 increase in the retention fee for remaining on the roll of solicitors to £90. The Council had also already agreed a £20 rise in the non-practising member fee to £180. Further small increases are expected next year.

Mr Newton added: “The Finance Committee still believes the gulf between the PC subscription and the retention and non-practising fees is too wide.  We all benefit from a regulatory function designed to protect our clients and the professional reputations of each one of us, whether in practice or not.”

The Guarantee Fund accounts fee is to be maintained at £400 and the Guarantee Fund contribution at £180. The incidental financial business fees, which stand at £100 for each business carrying out that work and £100 for individuals doing likewise, will also remain unchanged.

Mr Newton said the fee levels were part of the Society’s budget for 2014/15. He explained that a small surplus of around £9,000 was projected as the Society balanced the books while freezing the PC fee.

A motion proposing an amendment to the Society’s constitution to change the system for electing Council members was also agreed.

As a result, the first-past-the-post method will be replaced by the single transferable vote (STV) system, which ranks candidates in order of preference.

Sheekha Saha, Convener of the Constitution Working Party, said the change was particularly important as more Council seats were now being contested.

STV is already used for the election of the president, vice president and Board members. A members’ consultation backed the change for Council elections.

The SGM also endorsed two draft practice rules that had been put forward as motions by the Regulatory Committee.

One will ensure that all Scottish multi-national practices contribute to the Master Policy. The other will alter the power of attorney rules to allow a solicitor to act as an attorney in private matters separate from his or her professional life as a solicitor.

The Chief Executive, Lorna Jack, put the draft annual plan for 2014/15 to the SGM, describing it as a “broad and stretching programme of work”.

Previously described as the corporate plan, the annual plan sets out the Society’s priority projects for the year ahead.

The 40 key projects include: the rollout of the new Society digital Smartcard; consulting with members over significant changes to the way solicitors are regulated; taking forward recommendations from the Guarantee Fund review; working to improve access to justice and ensure we retain an effective and properly funded legal aid system; and, continuing work on fair access and promoting diversity.

In his address, the President, Alistair Morris, made reference to last week’s independence referendum, describing the popular engagement and high voter turnout as a “triumph of democracy”.

He added: “The referendum produced a clear and decisive result and it’s now important for everyone to come together and respect the will of the people.”

He also said there was a need for a clear roadmap for the delivery of new powers, with the Society keen and willing to participate in that process.

 

AGM 2014

AGM report, 4 April 2014

Watch a video of Lord Gill's presentation and the panel session.

 

Electronic voting will be used to elect members to the Society's ruling Council, solicitors agreed today.

A motion on amending the Society's constitution to allow e-voting was passed unopposed at the annual general meeting in Edinburgh. The change will take effect tomorrow (5 April).

The Convener of the Constitution Working Party, Sheekha Saha, who put forward the resolution, said the aim of the move was to make it easier for members to participate in the decision-making process.

She said the secure system would reduce the expense of administering postal ballots, which cost around £7,000 last year.

She added: "I hope you will recognise this as a positive change and a way in which we can make the process quicker, easier, more efficient and less expensive."

The issue was considered by the Constitution Working Party following successful use of e-voting for office bearers and the Board. Independent polling by Ipsos MORI found that 88% of solicitors believed they should be able to vote electronically if unable to attend a general meeting in person.

For the first time in the Society's 65-year history, the AGM was addressed by the head of the judiciary. Lord Gill, the Lord President of the Court of Session and Lord Justice General, discussed the changes faced by the legal profession.

He commented that the legal profession must continue to reinvent and renew itself, suggesting that the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill presented challenges but also opportunities for solicitors.

The Lord President said the £150,000 threshold for cases to be heard in the Court of Session was based on statistical evidence and had been "well thought out and carefully considered". He added that it would result in more work being available for solicitors.

Lord Gill said he expected no reduction in the quality of decision making or access to justice.

He concluded: "The opportunity is there for the taking. I urge you all to embrace it."

Bruce Beveridge thanked Lord Gill for delivering the keynote speech, adding that his perspectives on the challenges and opportunities facing the profession were particularly relevant during the current "unprecedented period of change".

The AGM also featured a lively panel discussion on the economy and the impact of the latest growth projections on Scottish solicitors.

The panel included: Lorne Crerar, Chairman of Harper Macleod; Nadhia Ahmad-Ali, group counsel at the Weir Group; Ian Moir, Convener of the Legal Aid Negotiating Team; and, Fiona McAllister, President of the Scottish Young Lawyers' Association.

Issues raised included: the regional fluctuations in the sluggish economic recovery; continuing need for cost effectiveness and added value; benefits of nurturing the lawyers of tomorrow; opportunities presented by new technology; challenges facing legal aid practitioners; provision of pro bono services; fair access to the profession; importance of maintaining a constructive dialogue with government.

In the formal business of the AGM, Alistair Morris, the Convener of a Society working party involved in discussions with the Council of Mortgage Lenders said "encouraging and constructive" talks had taken place over making changes to the Lenders' Handbook - for instance, in relation to developing a standardised certificate of title and reporting format - to ensure it better reflects Scottish practice and procedure. However, he also warned that making changes was "not going to be a quick process".

A report by Council member Austin Lafferty on next year's Commonwealth Law Conference in Glasgow highlighted the opportunities to share ideas and build relationships with lawyers from other jurisdictions.

Bruce Beveridge added: "What an opportunity - what an exciting chance, not only to meet with and to learn from our Commonwealth colleagues but to showcase our legal profession, our expertise and our system of justice, to the world.

"I hope everyone in this room and your solicitor colleagues will actively support this conference."

Members also heard statements of the accounts of the Society, the Guarantee Fund and the Scottish Solicitors' Benevolent Fund as well as reports from the Audit Committee and In-House Lawyers' Group.

The minutes of the 2013 AGM are available.

 

SGM September 2013

SGM report, 23 September 2013

The full video of the SGM is available by logging in to your members area, where the video link and password are provided.

Solicitors today voted against a proposed rule change that would introduce mandatory separate legal representation for borrowers and lenders in all conveyancing transactions.

The decision was taken at the Law Society of Scotland's special general meeting in Glasgow.

Including proxies, solicitors voted 847 to 671 against a change in the conflict of interest rules. There was one abstention. Two amendments to the motion backing a rule change - one which called for further consultation before making a decision - were defeated.

Today's decision followed a vote in favour of the principle of change at the annual general meeting earlier this year. The Society then conducted a consultation with consumer groups, lenders and solicitors, which showed that opinions were divided.

The issue of separate representation will now be looked at by the Society's Regulatory Committee, which will consider the vote and the views expressed during the discussion before deciding how to take the matter forward.

During a lengthy debate at the SGM, those opposed to separate representation said it would add significant cost and bureaucracy to the conveyancing process, adding that many of the arguments in favour of change were based on "fallacies".

Jonathan Edwards, of McVey & Murricane, who opposed the motion, said he passionately believed separate representation was a "disaster for the public" and could prove the "final nail in the coffin" for many high street solicitors.

He said only a small number of transactions resulted in claims against firms based on the Council of Mortgage Lenders' (CML) handbook, mostly against solicitors who were no longer in practice.

Supporters of separate representation argued that there was an increased risk of conflict of interest in conveyancing transactions due to onerous requirements placed on solicitors by lenders.

George MacWilliam, the Council member for Inverness, Dingwall, Tain, Dornoch and Wick, said a move to separate representation would ensure the public received truly independent legal advice.

He added that failure to support the motion would leave solicitors at the mercy of the lenders and their panels, while a clear vote in favour would enable the Society to go back to the CML and discuss the consequences of that decision.

Kennedy Foster, from the CML, said the organisation was "perfectly willing" to negotiate the terms of the lenders' handbook.

President Bruce Beveridge praised the "sheer amount of work" carried out by the Society on the issue of separate representation. He thanked those at the meeting for engaging so widely in such an important debate.

The SGM, which was streamed live for the first time, also agreed to freeze the practising certificate fee at £550 for the fourth successive year in recognition of the "challenges faced by many in the profession".

The intention is also to retain the same PC subscription level for the next three financial years, though there will be small increases in the retention and non-practising member fees.

Around 100 solicitors at the SGM heard that 2013/14 budget showed a small deficit of £4,000, which will be funded from reserves.

In presenting the corporate plan for 2013/14, Chief Executive Lorna Jack said the Society would work hard to deliver a better service and better value for money for members.

A motion amending the incidental financial business rules was also agreed and members supported two constitutional amendments. One will allow proxies for general meetings to be submitted electronically, rather than only by post. The other takes into account the effect of the planned court closures on the link between Council constituencies and sheriff court districts.

AGM 2013

AGM report, 22 March 2013

Members of the Law Society can view a video of the AGM 2013 via the member login area.

 

Solicitors today voted in favour of the principle of introducing separate representation for borrowers and lenders in all conveyancing transactions.

The vote at the Society's annual general meeting in Edinburgh followed a lengthy debate on the issue. Solicitors voted by 58 to 27, with three abstentions, in favour of a motion that called for a change in the Society's practice rules to prohibit the same solicitor acting for both parties. Amended rules will now be brought to the special general meeting in September for approval.

A report from the Society's Separate Representation Working Party backed the move, with one member of the group dissenting from that view.

The report, which was presented to the AGM, explained that the issue had been driven by changes in lenders' practices.

It said: "This has brought into focus the divergent interests of lender and borrower and the risk of a conflict of interest arising when the same solicitor acts for both.

"At the same time, the removal of many firms from lenders' conveyancing panels has led to a substantial increase in the volume of security transactions where different firms act for the parties."

It concluded that changing the rules on separate representation would remove the possibility of conflict of interest and clarify solicitors' responsibilities, also disrupting fraud, reducing claims on the Guarantee Fund and lowering panel compliance costs.

The report said: "Having carefully evaluated the perceived advantages and potential disadvantages of the proposed change, the working party is of the view that it should be introduced as soon as reasonably practicable."

Working party Convener Ross MacKay, who proposed the motion in favour of change, said the recommendation on separate representation had been made following discussions with solicitors and other bodies. He told the AGM that the issue was "not black and white" and there were pros and cons to making the change.

The Secretary of the Scottish Law Agents Society, Michael Sheridan, backed the move, saying: "It is not perfect but in the view of our membership it appears preferable."

Aberdeen Council member Graham Matthews, the dissenting member of the working party, opposed the motion. He argued that it could result in added costs for clients and duplication of work, causing "chaos". He said: "This is not doing our clients any favours."

Edinburgh solicitor and a former Director of Professional Practice at the Law Society, Bruce Ritchie, pointed out that the existing rules already dealt with the issue of conflict of interest. He said the change would lead to expense and delay.

Society President Austin Lafferty said: "It's clear that there are sensible and responsible views held on all sides of the argument." He added that the Society would continue to engage with the Council of Mortgage Lenders and other stakeholders.

Law Society of Scotland debate on separate representation in conveyancing from The Law Society of Scotland on Vimeo.

The AGM, which was filmed for the first time, also agreed that the Society's constitution should be amended to ensure that any president-elect or vice president-elect who ceased to be a Council member after taking office would continue as an ex-officio member.

A motion proposing a minor change to the practice rules was also approved. A further motion on the arrival of alternative business structures stressed the importance of ensuring a level playing field between new licensed providers and traditional firms.

The meeting, which was attended by more 100 solicitors and others, included the approval of previous minutes and heard statements of the accounts of the Society, the Guarantee Fund and the Scottish Solicitors' Benevolent Fund as well as reports from the Audit Committee and In-House Lawyers' Group.

After the AGM, a debate and panel discussion on the future of the profession heard that solicitors were split over whether they took an optimistic or pessimistic view of changes currently taking place within the sector.

Issues raised included the difficult economic climate, changes to legal aid, the challenges facing Diploma students, access to the profession, reforms to the marketplace and how firms are reacting to those changes.

The benefits of new technology and social media, the ability to embrace change and market the added value of using a solicitor as well as the "skills, passion and attributes" of the profession were all highlighted as key to building a successful future.

Most panel members, who represented various sectors, including high street practice, big firm, in-house and young solicitors, were optimistic about the future of the profession.

You can download the working party's final report and also a proxy list for the AGM.

SGM September 2012

SGM report, 18 September 2012

The practising certificate fee for solicitors will be frozen for a third successive year, a special general meeting agreed today.

Holding the PC subscription for 2012/13 at £550 is intended to limit financial pressure on the profession in a challenging economic environment.

The Society Treasurer, David Newton, told more than 100 members at the SGM that a "tight control over costs" had been kept and an appropriate balance struck between fees and services.

He added: "We are well aware of the challenges faced by many within the profession and continue to monitor the Society's financial stability along with the impact of fee levels on members."

Other fees were previously fixed by the Council. They included a £5 increase in the cost of remaining on the roll of solicitors to £75, the first rise in the retention fee since 2007.

The accounts fee, which is levied on principals to fund the financial compliance and interventions teams, will increase by £39 to £380. The Guarantee Fund subscription was set at £200, a decrease of £39. The combined cost of the accounts and Guarantee Fund subscription therefore remains unchanged. The fees for non-practising membership and the incidental financial business regime will also remain unchanged.

Despite the freeze in the PC and modest rise in the retention fee, the Society had budgeted for a deficit of only £18,000, the SGM was told.

Following a question from delegates, the cost of the review of the In-House Lawyers' Group, which looked at how in-house solicitors were represented and supported, was given as £58,621.

In presenting the Society's corporate plan for 2012/13, Chief Executive Lorna Jack highlighted research that "put to bed the old adage that everyone trusts their own solicitor but distrusts everyone else's".

The survey showed that 95% of those polled trusted their own solicitor and 86% trusted the profession in general.

She added: "The results demonstrated just how respected, trusted and valued solicitors are. Part of our role is to help protect and build on that reputation.

"The corporate plan is not meant to be a description of all the Society's work but highlights our priority projects and our key areas of focus for the Council, our committees and staff for the coming year as we seek to meet the objectives contained in the strategy."

The SGM also approved a minor constitutional amendment that will end the current requirement to conduct the annual elections of president and vice president by postal ballot, allowing electronic voting in the future.

Delegates heard an interim report on the advantages and disadvantages of separate representation for borrowers and lenders in conveyancing transactions following an increase in the number of claims against solicitors by lenders which have exposed a conflict of interest. A Society working party will continue to meet interested parties and consider the issues involved.

AGM 2012

AGM report, 31 May 2012

Solicitors today voted to reduce the size of the Society's ruling Council by a quarter.

The decision was among business conducted at the annual general meeting in Perth. A motion to amend the Society's constitution to establish a Council of 46 members, down from 62, was backed by 68 solicitors, with two against and three abstentions.

The Society's President, Cameron Ritchie, said the decision would streamline the decision-making process.

He said: "It is necessary in the modern day that we have a flexible, smaller Council and one that can move quickly to meet rapidly changing circumstances."

He also paid tribute to the contribution Council members made to the work of the Society.

Bruce Beveridge, the Society's Vice President-elect and Convener of the Constitution Working Group, said the aim of reform was to improve transparency, accountability, efficiency and effectiveness.

He added that consultations with members had led to a "significant degree of consensus" that the Council was too large.

He said reducing its size should make the Council more effective without affecting the quality of representation or debate, adding: "I am firmly of the view that we are proposing a motion that is measured and proportionate."

Solicitors elected from geographical constituencies will continue to make up most of the Council, with up to six co-opted solicitor members also representing specific under-represented sectors or groups, and up to nine non-solicitor members. The changes will be phased in over a three-year period.

Bruce Beveridge added that further reforms would be considered in the future, including the use of technology to increase participation in Society business.

Concerns were raised that an equalities impact assessment had not been carried out and published before proposing the reduction in Council size. But other delegates described the Society as an "inclusive" organisation where all views were considered.

A report on the issue of separate representation for borrowers and lenders in property transactions was also considered at the AGM.

Arguments both in favour and against separate representation were put forward. It was agreed that, while the Council was minded to amend the rules to prohibit acting for both lender and borrower, a working party would be set up to look at the issue in more detail and consult with interested parties. Recommendations are expected to be brought to the special general meeting in September.

A motion proposing several minor changes to the practice rules was also approved.

The meeting, which was attended by around 70 solicitors, included the approval of previous minutes and heard statements of the accounts of the Society, the Guarantee Fund and the Scottish Solicitors' Benevolent Fund.

Tribute was also paid to former Society President Alistair Hamilton, who died last Friday. Elected president in 1977/78, he was described as the "most courteous of solicitors and a true gentlemen". He was awarded a CBE for his services to the legal profession. Condolences were offered to his family.