Council reports 2014

Council Meeting, 12 December 2014

Presidential elections

The election of female solicitors to the Society’s top two positions for the first time was described as a “historic moment”.

The results of the elections for the Society’s president and vice president in 2015/16 were announced at today’s Council meeting.

The current Vice President, Christine McLintock, was the sole nomination for next year’s presidency, while Eilidh Wiseman, a former partner and Head of UK Employment Law Group at Dundas & Wilson, was elected vice president with 23 votes from Council members. They will take up their positions in May 2015.

In a close vice presidential contest, Jane MacEachran, Head of Legal and Democratic Services at Aberdeen City Council, received 16 votes.

Former general counsel for Pinsent Masons and previous convener of the Education and Training Committee, Christine said the fact that women had been elected to the senior elected positions was a “historic moment”.

Given that women held a number of other key positions at the Society – including Chief Executive Lorna Jack – she said it was “unapologetically a clarion call” for women in the legal profession.

Eilidh said it was a “tremendous honour and a great privilege”, adding that she looked forward to leading and supporting the solicitors’ profession and serving the public interest.

The current President, Alistair Morris, paid tribute to all three candidates.


Brussels office and EU engagement

The joint law society office in Brussels provides an effective service but more could be done to improve engagement within the European Union, a debate among Council members heard.

The Council was considering the EU Review report produced by Pinsent and Masons.

The report was commissioned by the Society in line with an annual plan commitment to “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”.

The in-depth analysis – which included interviews with members engaged in EU issues in private practice and in-house, management at the Society and other stakeholders – considered:

  • best practice among other comparable law societies and bar associations providing EU services and Brussels representation to their members
  • how Scottish local government organisations lobby and make their voices heard in Europe
  • the serviced office and meeting room space available in Brussels
  • the free and subscription EU law update services available
  • resourcing options and financial costs

The report recommended maintaining a fixed presence in Brussels to effectively represent the Scottish legal profession in Europe.

It added that sharing an office in Brussels with the Law Society of England and Wales and the Law Society of Northern Ireland provided value for money compared with other options.

The report said that the joint office would be more effective if engagement between the Society and the Brussels team improved.

The current service – which includes public relations, lobbying, awareness raising and issuing publications – costs £100,000 a year.

A debate among Council members agreed that the Brussels office provided a useful service, though more could be done to ensure maximum value for the Society’s investment in the facility.

Council Meeting, 28 November 2014

Presidential nominations

The Society will have an all-female presidential team next year for the first time in its 65-year history.

The candidates for 2015/16 were nominated at today’s Council meeting. Current Vice President Christine McLintock was the sole nomination for next year’s presidency.

The nominations for the vice presidency, Eilidh Wiseman, a former partner and Head of UK Employment Law Group at Dundas & Wilson, and Jane MacEachran, Head of Legal and Democratic Services at Aberdeen City Council, guaranteed that the top two posts would be held by women.

A secret ballot of Council members will decide the election for vice president, with the results due to be announced on 12 December.

Former general counsel for Pinsent Masons, Christine has been a member of the Council for nine years and also served as the Convener of the Education and Training Committee.

The current President, Alistair Morris, said he could think of no better person than Christine to take up the presidency.

He added: “I am also pleased to see two excellent candidates for vice president. Whoever wins, it is clear there will be a first class team at the helm of the Society.”

The new team will take up their positions in May 2015.


Regulatory reform

The Society will develop more detailed plans for regulating legal firms as well as individual solicitors, Council members agreed.

They backed a proposal that so-called entity regulation and charging should progress to the next stage, with papers prepared for discussion and further consultation with the profession.

The Council also decided to review the Society’s current rules and guidance rather than pursue reforms that would involve relying more on a principles and outcomes based regulatory approach than the current system of clearly defined rules, a project that had met with “less enthusiasm”.

Both decisions, which were recommended by the Regulatory Committee, were taken following previous feasibility studies and consultations on the issues.

Philip Yelland, Director of Regulation, said the previous debates and discussions on the potential reforms had been very useful, with the responses to the previous consultations considered by both the Regulatory Committee and the Board.

He added that although the rules and guidance had recently been consolidated, the way they were actually written had not been reviewed. He said a project plan would be prepared for the review.


Equality and diversity

Equality and diversity benefits solicitors and their clients – and is good for business, the Council heard.

Janet Hood, Convener of the Equality and Diversity Committee, made the comments as she presented the Society’s Equality and Diversity Strategy for 2014 to 2017.

She said the Society’s achievements to date included attracting more female, ethnic minority and state-educated new lawyers into the profession. Important work had also been carried out on issues such as bullying, she added.

However, more needed to be done on other issues, including equal pay between men and women and providing legal services to disabled clients, she said.

She said recognising the importance of equality and diversity was good for solicitors and those they served, adding: “If we get this right, it’s going to be good for the bottom line too.”

Lay Council member Dr Bronwen Cohen welcomed the strategy and said it provided an “opportunity for the Law Society to take the lead”.


Regulatory Committee 

Efforts will continue to improve the regulatory system in the year ahead, the Council heard.

The Convener of the Regulatory Committee, Carole Ford, gave a presentation on the work carried out in the past year and also looked forward to 2014/15.

She explained that the committee’s main projects had been: considering the feasibility of entity regulation and charging as well as principles and outcomes focused regulation; and, creating the Appeals and Reviews Sub-Committee.

Other work included oversight of the regulatory sub-committees and working with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to improve the system for making complaints about solicitors.

A report before Council members said: “The year has been a busy one for the Regulatory Committee, covering a lot of work; much remains to be done as the committee goes forward, with refreshed membership looking at the continuation of a number of the matters it has looked at in the last year and new matters which are to be identified.”

The President, Alistair Morris, paid tribute to the work of the committee and Carole’s “steely determination and clarity”.

Council Meeting, 31 October 2014

Regulatory reform

Leading figures from the legal system in England and Wales outlined their experiences of regulatory reform south of the border.

Paul Philip, Chief Executive of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, and Linda Lee, former president of the Law Society of England and Wales, gave presentations to the Council to inform discussions about possible reform in Scotland.

They discussed the benefits and challenges of entity regulation and charging and principle-based regulation.

The Society has carried out two consultations on reform of the regulatory system – one on entity regulation and charging, the other looking at principles and outcome focused regulation. The results are now being analysed.

Issued raised following the presentations included:

  • the administrative and bureaucratic impact of a new system
  • whether or not reform was likely to lead to better protection of the public
  • how a new system in Scotland could differ from that south of the border
  • the impact of alternative business structures on the need for change
  • the experiences of both small and large firms, and also in-house lawyers, in a reformed regulatory landscape

The Society President, Alistair Morris, said the presentations had been insightful and would help inform the debate in Scotland.

The current model of regulation, including professional practice and discipline, focuses on individual solicitors. The Society is considering moving towards a hybrid system, with more emphasis on regulating legal firms or entities. The Society is also looking at how the system of charging might need to change, for instance, with a new entity charge and reduced practising certificate fee.

The second potential reform would involve relying more on a principles and outcomes based regulatory approach than the current system of clearly defined rules.

Examining the possibility of reform was included in the Society’s corporate plan for 2013/14, which outlined the need to “ensure our system of regulation is effective, fair, relevant and proportionate, protecting those who rely on our members and the services they offer”.

Further discussions on both entity regulation and charging, and principles and outcome focused regulation, will take place at the November meeting of the Council.


Society building review

Further work is to be carried out on plans to relocate the Society from Drumsheugh Gardens to new headquarters, the Council agreed.

Council members were given an update on the building review project, which is examining the options available.

A number of possible locations have been identified, both in the city centre and at an out-of-town site.

Following a discussion among Council members, the Society said it would consult further with committee members about their requirements, provide more assurance that an office move is affordable and give extra consideration to the disposal of Drumsheugh Gardens.

A further update will be given at the November Council meeting and an update for staff will follow.

A paper before the Council said the aim of relocation was to “enhance the Society’s ability to be a high-performing organisation by providing a more modern, efficient and sustainable working environment for staff, members and visitors/stakeholders”.

Although plans to relocate were previously in place, the Drumsheugh Gardens premises were withdrawn from the market when property prices fell steeply in 2008.

Council Meeting, 29 August 2014

Society’s fees and budget

A fifth successive freeze in the annual practising certificate fee will be considered by solicitors at next month’s special general meeting.

The proposal to keep the PC fee at £550 was endorsed by the Society’s Council and a motion will now be put to members at the SGM.

The Council also agreed to maintain the Guarantee Fund accounts fee 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.

The retention fee for remaining on the roll of solicitors will go up by £10 to £90, while the non-practising member fee will increase by £20 to £180.

The Treasurer, David Newton, said the fee levels had been put forward as part of the Society’s budget for 2014/15.

He explained that although a small surplus of £8,100 was projected, the budget had essentially been geared towards achieving a break-even position. He added that the budget took account of the financial position of many firms.

Council members heard that reserves were in a healthy position and the number of practising solicitors had broken through the 11,000 barrier for the first time, ensuring stability of fee income.

The Chief Executive, Lorna Jack, who also put the draft annual plan for 2014/15 to Council members, said it was a “terrific milestone” to reach 11,000 members for the first time in the Society’s history.

Previously described as the corporate plan, the annual plan sets out the Society’s priority projects for the year ahead and will be published ahead of the SGM.


Special general meeting

The agenda for the Society’s special general meeting next month was agreed by Council members.

The SGM, which will be held at the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow on 24 September, will include a motion proposing an amendment to the Society’s constitution to change the system for electing Council members.

The Constitution Working Party recommended that the first-past-the-post method should be replaced by the single transferable vote (STV), which ranks candidates in order of preference.

A report before Council members explained: “A preferential voting system can help ensure a balanced and diverse elected body and help to avoid minority groups being squeezed out in the voting process.

“This can be particularly important when using geographical constituencies and ensuring areas of large population do out unfairly ‘outweigh’ areas of lower population.”

STV is currently used for the election of the president, vice president and Board members.

A members’ consultation found 70% support for the change among respondents, with 12% against and 18% undecided.

The Council agreed to support the principle of moving to the STV system. A motion will now be put to solicitors at the SGM.

A discussion among Council members heard that the new Smartcard for Society members, which is being rolled out from autumn this year to November 2015, could also encourage e-voting in the future. The secure card acts as a professional ID that is recognised across Europe.

The SGM will also consider two draft practice rules, put forward as motions for endorsement by the Regulatory Committee.

One would ensure that all Scottish multi-national practices contribute to the Master Policy. The other would 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.


Regulation consultations

Solicitors should help shape the way they are regulated by responding to two ongoing consultations, the Council heard.

The consultations – one on entity regulation and charging, the other looking at principles and outcome focused regulation – could lead to significant changes to the regulatory system.

Members were urged to respond to the consultations before 10 October. Neither the Council nor the Regulatory Committee have taken a fixed view on the best way forward.

More information is available on the Society's website.

Council Meeting, 27 June 2014

Society strategy

The skills and qualifications needed in a 21st century legal services workforce were explored in the latest Council strategy session

Society President Alistair Morris explained that the Society’s current strategy, Towards 2020, had worked well over the past four years but must also take account of the pace of change in the legal profession and justice system.

He added that it was important to be innovative and brave in further evolving the Society’s strategy.

The Director of Representation and Professional Support, Neil Stevenson, said lessons about how to move forward could be learned from other professions and jurisdictions.

The challenges and needs of different sectors of the profession were raised during a debate among Council members.

With increasing numbers of non-solicitors delivering legal services, one option may be to build on the successful Registered Paralegal Scheme, which provides a defined professional status and a career path for paralegals, it was pointed out.

Opportunities for expanding the Scottish solicitor brand overseas and the impact of alternative business structures were among other issues discussed.

The debate followed a Council away day in February and subsequently an overview of trends in legal services provision, with a particular focus on the regulatory and workforce needs of the profession.

The Society will now form a working party to develop outline proposals to bring back to the Council.


Regulatory Committee membership

A solicitor member of the Council should sit on the Society’s Regulatory Committee, it was agreed today.

During a debate, it was highlighted that having a Council member on the committee would provide a “bridge” or link between the two bodies.

A paper before the meeting proposed that the role of sitting on both bodies should be carried out by the Past President.

However, a vote among members agreed that it would be less restrictive if any Council solicitor member could sit on the committee.

The Regulatory Committee is made up of five non-solicitor members and five solicitor members, with a lay convener. Four of the five current solicitor members are on the Council. None of the non-solicitors sit on the ruling body.

The committee was created by the 2010 Legal Services (Scotland) Act and began work in 2011.


Conveyancing panel management

The Society has raised a number of concerns about a new conveyancing panel management system

The response to Decision First, the company facilitating the Lender Exchange system, was outlined during a discussion on the Society’s Hot Topics briefing paper.

Council members heard that a productive meeting had been held with Decision First, which will provide the Society with a final set of the terms and conditions that solicitors would be expected to agree to and comply with. The Society will keep members informed of developments.

The new panel management system is intended to provide a single "gateway" between solicitors and lenders, with panel firms charged an annual fee.


Council and committees

The Council welcomed several new members, while also agreeing a number of committee appointments.

New solicitor member Vikki Melville, representing Edinburgh, along with lay members Sue Carter, Christine Walsh and Graham Watson, joined the Council.

Meanwhile, three “outstanding” candidates – Ken MacKinnon, Head of the Law School at Robert Gordon University; Charles Welsh, Apprenticeship Manager at the RBS Group; and, Bernadette Campbell, who works in an advisory capacity for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde – were appointed as education and training lay committee members.

The Council agreed the appointments to the Education and Training (Standard Setting) Sub-Committee as well as the Education and Training Policy Committee, which shares the same membership.

Council Meeting, 30 May 2014

Regulation consultation

A consultation looking at the option of significant changes to the way Scottish solicitors are to be regulated is to be carried out, the Council has agreed.

The consultation will be held on two separate issues:

  • entity-based regulation and charging, in addition to the regulation of individual solicitors; and,
  • principles and outcome-focused regulation, rather than a rule-based system.

Staging the consultation is in line with the Society’s corporate plan for 2013/14, which outlined the need to “ensure our system of regulation is effective, fair, relevant and proportionate, protecting those who rely on our members and the services they offer”.

The corporate plan pledged to examine “the concept of moving towards a principles-based system of regulation” and also explore regulation of legal entities.

The decision to consult follows consideration of the regulatory needs of the profession as part of a review of the Society’s strategy. The issues were initially identified by the Regulatory Committee.

Neither the Regulatory Committee nor the Council have adopted a position for or against either reforms but are both keen to hear views from members before any formal decisions are taken.

The Director of Regulation, Philip Yelland, the “conversation with the profession” and other stakeholders would inform future thinking and policy development.

A discussion among Council members heard that it was important for the Society to lead the debate on the regulation of solicitors.

The three-month consultation is expected to begin in July, with a full report drawn up for consideration by the Council. If the principles of the new approaches were accepted, further consultations would follow.

Assisted Suicide Bill

Legislation to allow assisted suicide should contain much clearer definitions, the Society’s Council heard.

The warning about the lack of clarity was included in a draft Society response to the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, which aims to make it lawful for a person to assist another to commit suicide, under certain circumstances. 

The response pointed out that there is no clear definition of what “assisted suicide” is or what it is to “assist suicide”. The role of “licensed facilitator” is also not clearly defined. There are also questions over proposed time limits between a request for an assisted suicide and when it could be legally carried out.

The Society called for careful consideration of the proposed age at which someone could request or facilitate an assisted suicide. In the Bill, 16 year olds could request assisted suicide and be assisted by another 16 year old.

Additional concerns were raised about the provision to allow a solicitor to act as a proxy to sign the request for assisted suicide for a person who is blind, unable to read or unable to sign themselves.

The Society will submit its response to the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee and is likely to give oral evidence later in the year.

Scotland’s constitutional future

The Society’s important role in the discussion on independence for Scotland was highlighted during a debate among Council members.

The Council considered a draft response to the Scottish Government’s white paper on independence.

The document, Scotland’s Constitutional Future: views and counter views, was described as well drafted.

It was pointed out that the Society’s had already carried out valuable work on the constitutional question.

However, a Society poll conducted by Ipsos Mori showed that 67% of respondents found it difficult to believe whether the information provided in the public debate was true or not. The Society could help in giving voters impartial information, it was argued.

The draft report included input from the Society’s committees, sub-committees and feedback from solicitors and Council members.

Office bearers and Council members

The longest serving member of the Council, Alistair Morris, has taken up the role of President.

The Chief Executive of Edinburgh and Fife-based Pagan Osborne paid tribute to his predecessor Bruce Beveridge – who took the position of Past President – and said he was “tremendously honoured and excited” to be President after 21 years on the Council.

Former general counsel for Pinsent Masons and currently Convener of the Society’s Education Committee, Christine McLintock, became Vice President.

The Council welcomed a number of new members: Colin Anderson, Brandon Malone and Vikki Melville – all representing Edinburgh – and Carl Crone in the constituency of Ayr, Dumfries, Kirkcudbright and Stranraer.

The appointment of eight law members was also approved. Existing members Professor Bronwen Cohen, Suzanne Dawson, Christopher Fraser, Professor James Gallagher and John Reid were appointed to serve a further three-year term from 1 June. Susan Carter, Christine Walsh and Graham Watson were appointed as new lay members.

Thanks were expressed to outgoing lay members Robin McGill and Martin Allan.

A minute’s silence was held for Professor Stewart Hamilton, who passed away earlier in the month. The former Chair of the Society's Audit Committee was said to have contributed a “vast amount of work and influence” to the Society.

Council Meeting, 25 April 2014

Society strategy

The regulatory and workforce needs of the solicitors’ profession are expected to lie at the heart of the Society’s evolving strategy, Council members heard.

Current and future strategy was being driven by “seismic changes” in the legal landscape and the Society must respond in the interests of the profession and the public, they were told.

Chief Executive Lorna Jack explained that a Council away day in February had already considered a number of strategic issues. However, discussions about changes to the legal market and profession had produced a “huge diversity of views” and required further exploration, she said.

Vice President Alistair Morris added: “We are in a time of change, seismic change, being driven by the consumer.”

He said the Society must consider its role during that period of change, for instance, in relation to the current Towards 2020 strategy.

Deputy Chief Executive Henry Robson gave a “snapshot” of some trends in legal services, which included the changing nature of the solicitors’ profession and other legal services providers, the growth of multi-national practices, mergers and takeovers, globalisation, specialisation and new business models.

Liz Campbell, Director of Education and Training, said the time may be right to look again at who delivers legal services and what are the qualifications, skills and workforce needs of the future.

For instance, with increasing numbers of non-solicitors delivering legal services, one option may be to build on the successful Registered Paralegal Scheme, which provides a defined professional status and a career path for paralegals.

Philip Yelland, Director of Regulation, explained that the Regulatory Committee had identified two projects to explore.

He said more work would be carried out on the possibility of developing a regulatory regime focused on principles and outcomes rather than a rule-based system. This would require the Society to consider how charges are made for regulation as a consequence.

More detailed papers on the issues outlined would be put to future Council meetings, members were told.

President Bruce Beveridge said: “Excellence has to be at the absolute core of anything we do.”

Trainee remuneration

The recommended pay rate for trainees is to rise by 3% from June this year, the Council agreed.

The increase will result in a recommended rate of £16,700 for first-year trainees and £20,000 for those in their second year.

Education and Training (Policy) Committee Convener Christine McLintock said the recommended rate had been frozen since 2012, partly in recognition of the difficult economic climate. However, the economic outlook was now more positive, she added.

She argued that a recommended rate would help to retain the best talent in the solicitors’ profession by recognising their worth.

Concerns were raised that setting a recommended rate could discourage firms from taking on trainees. The financial challenges facing legal aid practitioners, in particular, was highlighted.

It was agreed that the increase should take effect from 1 June, with the issue of setting a recommended rate considered in more detail in the months ahead.

Consumer protections in conveyancing

The Society is to carry out a review of the consumer protections in place for those involved in conveyancing transactions.

Council members heard that the robustness of those consumer protections had been questioned following high-profile cases where consumers were left without valid title after buying property, an issue due to be raised in a motion to the Scottish Parliament by Labour MSP Jenny Marra.

The Council heard that any potential pay-outs on claims from the Master Policy, which provides insurance against losses caused by a solicitor’s negligence, were a matter for the insurers.

However, the principles that had been highlighted by the cases, which involved Scottish solicitors, could be explored further, it was added.

Other consumer protections include the Guarantee Fund, which reimburses clients who have suffered monetary loss because of the dishonesty of a solicitor or their staff.

Council members

Tribute was paid to four retiring Council members, who were described as making a valuable contribution to the work of the Society.

Former president Ruthven Gemmell, the second longest-serving Council member – after joining as a co-opted member in 1993 – and Edinburgh constituency representative, gave “outstanding service” as an office bearer and through the Society’s Council and committees.

The current President, Bruce Beveridge, added that the other retiring members – Catriona Munro, representing Edinburgh; Frances McKay, from the constituency of Stonehaven, Peterhead and Banff; and, Stewart Sheddon, Council member for Ayr – all deserved recognition for their contributions at Council meetings and as constituency representatives.

Report of Cabinet Secretary for Justice address to Council, 28 February 2014

The Scottish Government will “listen, engage and discuss” with the solicitors’ profession but no more money is available to spend on the legal system, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice told Council members.

Kenny MacAskill set out his position during an address and Q&A session at the Council’s annual away day.

During a discussion on legal aid cuts, Mr MacAskill acknowledged that investment would ultimately be needed to avoid a collapse of the system.

He said: “I recognise that there is a situation where you have to ultimately increase costs otherwise it’s going to collapse.

“I recognise that the way we have had to deal with it is to tighten the belt and spread the jam thin. I do recognise that there comes a time where that is untenable – I hope we don’t reach that because I think that maintaining the integrity of the system is the right thing to do.

“But I can’t give you any assurance. I do feel the pain. I do accept the justness of your case.”

In answer to a question about the need to invest to create a modern, effective legal system, he said: “Ultimately, we think we have to get ahead of the game but at the moment we are struggling just to cope with what we’ve got and the budget is shrinking.

“The challenges have not gone. I can’t give you an assurance when we are going to be able to ease off.”

He added: “It is a period of austerity. We are coming out of it but there is no sack of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

He stressed that the Scottish Government had to balance competing priorities, just as he did as justice secretary, when considering how to spend money allocated from the UK Government.

Mr MacAskill faced a series of questions on the Scottish Government’s plans to abolish the requirement for corroboration in criminal cases, which was agreed in a stage 1 debate at the Scottish Parliament yesterday.

He promised that a “veritable brains trust” of the legal profession, under Lord Bonomy, would review the question of ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place to protect against miscarriages of justice.

Describing the previous day’s parliamentary debate as “tempestuous and rowdy”, he added: “I do believe that the case against corroboration has been made. But I do accept the legitimate, well thought out position of many that we require to ensure that there are adequate safeguards and that is why I have instructed Lord Bonomy to carry out his review into the matter.

“His reference group is a veritable brains trust of the profession at judicial level, at practitioner level, at academic level. And I am sure they will come back with the best possible safeguards we can have that will match any other jurisdiction in the world.”

He said the abolition was necessary to provide access to justice for victims of rape, sexual offences and other crimes where corroboration can be difficult.

He added that further delaying the move, for instance by passing it to the Scottish Law Commission for consideration, would continue to deny access to justice for victims until after 2016.

In a wide-ranging discussion, he also promised that “my mind is absolutely open” on the issue of contracting in criminal legal aid, adding: “Discussions are ongoing and I can give you an absolute assurance I have formed no view and I would think that a decision will be made sooner rather than later.”

Likewise, with the issue of improving access to the legal profession – despite the government’s decision to end grant funding for the Diploma – he said he had a “blank sheet of paper” on the issue and was happy to engage with the profession.

Mr MacAskill said court closures had not been introduced with any relish but were necessary to maintain the service. He said the capacity of courts was being monitored.

He expressed concern about the question of mergers and takeovers with firms based in England and suggested that voting in favour of independence in the referendum later this year could help address the situation.

In conclusion, he told Council members: “I know it’s not been happy times and I’m genuinely sorry for that. But I am grateful for the service that you give and Scotland is a better place for what you do.

“I don’t have any more money so I can’t put that on the table. I’m happy to listen, to engage and to discuss. The door’s open.”

Council Meeting, 31 January 2014

Fair access to the profession

A comprehensive action plan for improving access to the solicitors’ profession was approved by the Council.

The programme for removing potential barriers to entering the profession is based on the 21 recommendations contained in the Fair Access to the Legal Profession report, which was considered by Council members in November.

The Society’s Director of Education and Training, Liz Campbell, said a detailed project plan, along with the costs and a timescale for implementation, had since been drawn up. Additional staff will be needed to deliver the project, she added.

Measures in the action plan include:

  • the launch of a Street Law project in schools to help raise pupils’ aspirations
  • a focus on making access to legal internships fairer
  • a re-evaluation of the alternative route to qualification to ensure it meets the needs of legal employers and those wishing to access the profession

The Society’s President, Bruce Beveridge, said the project had already attracted considerable interest and would continue to do so as it now moved towards implementation.

He added later that the Society was committed to challenging any barriers to entering the profession.

He said: “It is vital that the profession is open to as wide a variety of people as possible and that we maintain excellent standards in education and training.”

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


Constitutional changes that will allow e-voting in Council elections are to be put to the profession.

Council members agreed the changes, which will now be considered by solicitors at the Society’s annual general meeting in April.

A report before the Council said the Constitution Working Party was set up to look at constitutional changes that would “improve participation, effectiveness and efficiency”.

The move to e-voting had received the backing of those who expressed an interest in the issue, Council members heard.

The President, Bruce Beveridge, stressed the importance of moving to a more modern system of voting in Council elections.


Annual accounts and AGM

The Society’s annual accounts for 2012/13 were approved by the Council and will now be put to members at the AGM.

The accounts showed a surplus of £182,000, after pension adjustments, against an original budgeted deficit of £18,000. Membership and investment income were higher than expected and Judicial Factor commission along with financial compliance inspection fees produced income of £240,000.

Expenditure on the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal and final salary pension scheme fees were higher than budgeted.

Treasurer David Newton said: “All in all, the finances are in good order and we have a reasonable reserve.”

The Guarantee Fund accounts, which recorded a deficit of £55,000 for last year, were also approved and will now go to the AGM.

The agenda for the AGM was agreed by Council members. The meeting will be held on 4 April at the Queen Mother Conference Centre, The Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh.

The Lord President, Lord Gill, will address the meeting on the future of the justice system in Scotland.

Survey of members and MSPs

The Society’s priorities should include key aspects of our regulatory role, law reform, legal aid and conveyancing issues, according to a survey of members.

The polling organisation Ipsos MORI presented the main findings of the Society’s annual research to Council members.

The Society work considered to be a high priority included:

  • intervening in firms where a critical failure has been identified (87%)
  • inspecting firms to ensure compliance with accounting rules (76%)
  • investigating conduct complaints against solicitors and prosecuting cases to the discipline tribunal (71%)
  • suggesting improvements to legislation in the UK and Scottish parliaments (60%)
  • protecting the legal aid budget and representing those solicitors working in legal aid (54%)
  • tackling conveyancing issues with banks and other lending institutions (53%)

The survey concluded that perceptions of the Society remained very positive, with a continued improvement in how effective the Society is seen as a regulator.

Also, members believed the Society should continue to be responsible for both representation and regulation.

The survey found that more than half of members and MSPs were either very or fairly favourable towards the Society, while around a third held a neutral view. Only a small minority were unfavourable.

In terms of economic outlook, MSPs were the most optimistic (73%). However, solicitors were significantly more hopeful about the prospect of recovery (46%) than the general public (32%).

Regulatory Committee

Further issues around membership of the Regulatory Committee are to be explored, the Council agreed.

A report before the Council set out a number of recommendations on terms of office, the timing of appointments and whether members of the committee should also sit on the Council.

Some concerns were raised about the suggestion that solicitor and non-solicitor committee members should not be eligible to sit on the Council, a measure intended to ensure the committee’s independence is “clearly visible”.

The committee will now look in more detail at the links between Council and the Regulatory Committee, the membership of regulatory sub-committees and the role of the Nominations Committee in making appointments.