Council reports 2015

Council Meeting, 11 December 2015

New Society premises

The move from the Society’s former Victorian townhouse offices to modern premises earlier this month was marked with a tribute to staff who worked on the project.

The President, Christine McLintock, welcomed Council members to the inaugural meeting at Atria One in Edinburgh’s Morrison Street.

She added that the Relocation Board, the move team, the facilities team, the IT Team, the architectural team, the design team, the tradesmen involved, the removal team, the catering team and the cleaning team had all worked particularly hard to ensure the move was a success.

Council members showed their appreciation to those involved in the move.

The move was previously described by Chief Executive Lorna Jack as the “end of an era”.

However, she added that the new premises would provide better facilities for members and others who rely on the Society’s services, including those who volunteer their time in delivering regulatory and representative functions.

Presidential elections

The Society’s president for 2016/17, Eilidh Wiseman, said she was thrilled to be elected to the position.

The presidential election results were announced at today’s Council meeting.

Eilidh added that it would be a tremendous honour and privilege to become president next year.

She said the work of the Society was detailed, complex and interesting, adding that she believed the Society was well placed to face the future with confidence given the adoption of an ambitious strategy for the next five years.

Graham Matthews, was elected by as next year’s vice president, said he was looking forward to working with all the teams at the Society on the new strategy in the excellent new working environment at Atria One.

The new office bearers will take up their posts in May 2016.

Council Meeting, 27 November 2015

Presidential nominations

Current Society Vice President Eilidh Wiseman was the sole nomination to take up the position of president in 2016/17.

The Council member representing Aberdeenshire solicitors, Graham Matthews, was the only nomination for next year’s vice presidency.

Eilidh Wiseman, who will succeed Christine McLintock, is the former head of the employment team at Dundas and Wilson. She joined the Council seven years ago and is also the Convener of the Education and Training Committee.

Graham Matthews, who is a partner at Peterkins, has served as a Council member for more than ten years and sits on the Professional Practice Committee and Regulatory Committee.

Christine congratulated both Council members on their nominations and paid tribute to their experience and expertise.

The nominations for both posts will be confirmed at the Society’s December Council meeting. The new team will take up their posts in May 2016.

Scottish Parliament elections

The Society’s priorities for the Scottish parliamentary elections should include a focus on issues of equality and access to justice, the Council heard.

Council members debated a draft paper outlining key issues the Society believes the next Scottish Government should take action on.

Suggestions made during the discussion included:

  • Highlighting the importance of tackling the gender pay gap if the legal profession is to be at the heart of a thriving Scottish economy
  • Launching an access to justice campaign by the Society and solicitors
  • Focusing on greater social mobility in relation to access to legal education
  • Raising issues of equality and social justice in relation to the future workings of employment tribunals
  • Emphasising the role of new technology during the court reform process, for instance, in online dispute resolution

The country’s political parties will be urged to consider the Society’s priorities in their manifestos.

Council Meeting, 30 October 2015

Judicial diversity

Further consideration should be given to developing a distinct career path for the judiciary, the Council heard.

During a discussion about the Society’s response to the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland’s paper on judicial diversity, Council members raised the issues of specific judicial training and the Bench as an attractive, separate legal career.

The meeting heard that a number of focus groups had informed the Society’s response to the paper, with further input from Society committees and staff.

The focus groups raised the issue of a judicial career path distinct from solicitors and advocates – a system used in several European jurisdictions – which required further thinking across the legal profession.

It was also pointed out that the Society is keen to work with JABS to ensure training on gaining judicial competencies is more focused and effective.

The Society’s response made a number of recommendations, which also included promoting outreach work in schools and providing mentoring opportunities.

The Society said good progress has been made in increasing diversity within the judiciary – for instance, as a result of a conference on merit and diversity attended by the Society last year – but more could be done.


CCBE and Brussels office

Lawyers’ bodies operating across the European Union carry out valuable work but could benefit from more involvement by Scottish solicitors.

Council members were given presentations on the work of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) and also the UK law societies’ Brussels office.

The CCBE presentations were given by: Ruthven Gemmell, second Vice President of the CCBE and a former president of the Society; James Wolffe, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and Head of the UK Delegation to the CCBE; and, Mark Clough, the Society’s representative on the UK delegation.

The presentations by Ruthven Gemmell, who is due to become the first UK solicitor to assume the CCBE presidency in 2017, and James Wolffe, the first dean of the Faculty to address the Council, pointed out the work carried out to advance the interests of European lawyers and promote issues such as human rights, democratic values, the rule of law and access to justice.

Mark Clough highlighted the economies of scale membership of the CCBE provides for smaller legal professions.

He added that, while the Society and Faculty are represented on a number of committees, the CCBE would benefit from more involvement from Scottish solicitors at committee level.

The Brussels-based CCBE represents more than a million European lawyers. The UK delegation is made up the three law societies and the Faculty.

Mickael Laurans, Head of the UK law societies’ joint Brussels office, outlined the work carried out to represent solicitors and inform them of developments in EU law.

A question and answer session with Council members raised issues such as the gender and ethnicity of the CCBE, its role in recent discussions about the Maternity Directive and how the work of the CCBE could be best communicated to the Council and Scottish solicitors.


Michael Scanlan

Former Society president Michael Scanlan, who died earlier this month, was described as an outstanding representative of the Scottish solicitors’ profession.

In a tribute, the Society’s President, Christine McLintock, said he was an exceptional solicitor, with wit and charm, who enjoyed a distinguished and varied career.

He served as president between 1999 and 2000, also chairing a number of Society committees and representing the constituency of Glasgow for eleven years until 2003.

The Council offered sincere condolences to his wife and family.

Council Meeting, 28 August 2015

Annual plan and budget

The first draft annual plan produced since publication of the Society’s ambitious five-year strategy was discussed by Council members.

The 2015/16 plan highlights the Society’s most important projects, which will help it deliver its purpose of leading legal excellence and its mission to be a world-class professional body. The goals were set out in Leading Legal Excellence earlier this month.

A report before the Council explained: “The Senior Management Team has reflected on the feedback received from previous annual plans and worked to create a list of fewer but more strategic actions.”

The report stressed that, while “business as usual” activity would continue, the draft plan contained only 27 actions compared with 39 in 2014/15.

A debate among Council members heard that the strategy had attracted praise for its ambition and international outlook in the strategy.

However, concerns were raised that opening membership of the Society to other legal professionals could divert its focus from providing services to current members and dilute the solicitor brand.

Chief Executive Lorna Jack said that expanding the membership base would increase income and allow the Society to build a more sustainable future.

The feedback of Council members will be taken on board and a redrafted annual plan is due to be published in October ahead of the new operating year in November.

The Society’s operating budget during a “transitional year” that includes relocating from Drumsheugh Gardens to new city centre offices was approved by the Council. An operating deficit of £359,000 is anticipated in 2015/16, with the Society expected to return to a small operating surplus in 2016/17 and beyond.


Access to justice and the profession

People may struggle to find a solicitor to take on summary criminal appeals in the new Sheriff Appeal Court, Council members heard.

Discussions on access to justice and legal aid heard that the Society is due to meet the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Paul Wheelhouse, to raise the issue.

The Society has already written to the minister about the impact of the Legal Aid and Advice and Assistance Regulations

The President, Christine McLintock, expressed concern that the proposed rates would make summary criminal appeal work financially unsustainable given the scale of the work and overheads incurred preparing and presenting appeals.

In her letter, she highlighted the example of a one-hour appeal against conviction hearing, which would result in a payment of just £54.80, down from the current figure of £292.20, despite involving the same amount of work.

Likewise, preparing a four-page written submission for an appeal against sentence would fall from £100 to £24.

During a debate among Council members, it was highlighted that the new arrangements would cause particular problems for solicitors from outside Edinburgh who would also face significant travel costs.

The Society hopes to submit evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee when it considers the regulations in September.

The Sheriff Appeal Court is due to be established in September, dealing initially with criminal cases and then civil cases from January 2016.

The Council held a separate discussion on access to the legal profession and how financial assistance could be provided to students from less advantaged backgrounds at the undergraduate and Diploma stages of their route to qualification as a solicitor.


In-House Lawyers’ Committee

A new committee for in-house solicitors has formally adopted a new name.

The Council agreed that the In-House Lawyers’ Group (ILG) should be renamed the In-House Lawyers’ Committee, which will function as a committee of the Council, with a Society role and remit as well as a project plan and budget.

It was also agreed that a co-opted seat on the Council should be allocated to the new committee. The convener of the committee would take the seat unless already an elected member of the Council, in which case the committee would nominate another representative.

The appointment of Lynda Towers as Convener and Sara Scott as Vice Convener to the new committee, along with its remit, were also approved by the Council. The new committee will sit for a transitional period to June 2016.

Council Meeting, 26 June 2015

In-house lawyers' committee

A new committee is to be established to ensure the Society best serves the needs of in-house solicitors, the Council agreed.

The new in-house lawyers’ committee will replace the In-House Lawyers’ Group (ILG) Committee from November this year.

The composition of the committee was agreed for a transitional period to June 2016, along with a draft remit.

The process for electing the convener – first by the committee and later by the in-house membership – and appointing the convener to the Council were also approved.

Further work is to be carried out on the Society’s standing orders and the operation of the body, which will function as a committee of the Council, with a Society role and remit as well as a project plan and budget.

ILG Chair Lynda Towers said the existing committee met last night and agreed that in principle the Council paper was a “good way forward”.

A number of points about the membership of the new committee and the way it would operate were clarified during a discussion among Council members.

The Council heard that the debate about the representation of in-house members had been taking place for five years and the time was right to take the issue forward.


General election

Further devolution to Scotland, an EU referendum and human rights are likely to prove key areas of work for the Society following the general election result last month, the Council heard.

Members agreed to set up a new working party to focus on the UK Government’s plans to repeal the Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights, ending the automatic right of appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The working party will lead the Society’s work on the consultation on repeal of the Human Rights Act and any subsequent legislation.

All three key areas of work were included in the Society’s pre-election document, Our Priorities for the UK General Election 2015.

A paper before Council members added: “We plan to make representations on other parts of the legislative agenda as well as more general issues, such as the economy, monetary and fiscal policy, to build on our work from the last UK parliament.”


Guarantee Fund

The name of the fund set up to reimburse clients who have suffered monetary loss because of the dishonesty of a solicitor or their staff is to be changed to ensure it is better understood by the public.

The Council agreed to change the operational name of the Scottish Solicitors’ Guarantee Fund to the Client Protection Fund.

A report before the Council explained that the issue had been considered by the Guarantee Fund Sub-Committee.

It added: “After a lengthy discussion of all the options, participants opted for Client Protection Fund. It was felt that, with this name, it was much clearer what the fund was for and who the fund should benefit.”

The Council also agreed that the Guarantee Fund contribution for 2015/16 should remain unchanged at £180.


Council members

Retiring Council member Ross MacKay brought “commercial and intellectual rigour of the highest quality” to his work, Council members were told.

Vice President Eilidh Wiseman said Ross had served on the Council for nine years and was the only Edinburgh representative to have been re-elected on three separate occasions.

She added that Ross convened both the Property Law Committee and the Insurance Committee and was one of the hardest working members of the Council.

She said: “The amount of work which Ross has put into both committees is immeasurable. He has steered the Society through very difficult insurance market conditions over the course of the last recession.”


Oliver Adair

The Society’s former legal aid convener, Ollie Adair, believed passionately in social justice, the rights of individuals and fairness in society, the Council heard.

Eilidh Wiseman paid tribute to the former Council member, who passed away earlier this month after a long fight with cancer.

Joining the Council in 1996 to represent solicitors in Hamilton and Lanark, Ollie had been a man of great principle and integrity with a tremendous ability to make people feel at ease, she added.

She offered the Society’s condolences to his wife, Catriona, and family.

Council Meeting, 29 May 2015

President and Vice President

The first all-female presidential team in the Society’s 66-year history today took up their posts.

Solicitor Christine McLintock was installed as the 2015/16 President, while Eilidh Wiseman, Convener of the Society’s Education and Training Committee, became Vice President.

Christine, the second female President, told Council members: “It is a signal honour and a privilege to become the President of the Law Society and I am very aware of the responsibility attaching to the role.”

She highlighted a number of issues that could feature during her presidency, including the potential arrival of new business structures, access to justice and the reform of legal aid, political change, promoting the legal education system, fair access and equality and diversity in the solicitors’ profession, and improving the way the Society works.

Christine said: “It promises to be another busy, challenging and rewarding year for all of us and I am excited and enthusiastic to play my part in this chapter of the Society’s story.”

She added that she expected Eilidh to be a “fantastic Vice President and a wonderful support to us all as an office bearer”.

She also highlighted the “wisdom and expertise” of her predecessor, Alistair Morris, who received the past president’s medal. She described him as “passionate, committed and hardworking”.


Legislative reform

A working party is to be set up to oversee the Society’s input to a possible new Bill on the legal profession, the Council agreed.

Issues to be examined by the working party could include non-solicitor membership of the Society, further work on entity regulation and charging and the findings of the Guarantee Fund review, according to a paper before Council members.

The working party will provide advice and guidance, oversee any necessary consultation with members, report regularly to the Board and the Council and prepare submissions to the Scottish Government.

During a debate, Council members discussed how a Bill might help the Society meet the aims set out in its new strategy, Tomorrow’s Law Society.

A report before the Council outlining the case for legislation said the current legal framework surrounding the Scottish legal profession was a patchwork and should be modernised.

It said: “The Scottish legal services market has changed dramatically in recent years. The Scottish legal profession faces strong competitive pressures, but also strategic opportunities, particularly internationally.

“But the regulatory framework has not kept pace with changes in the marketplace, and is not well adapted to present challenges or opportunities – for consumers, for the profession, for the Society or for Scotland as a whole.

“The Society therefore considers that there is a compelling case for a strategic package of empowering reforms, which could be taken forward in a freestanding Bill in a forthcoming legislative programme.”

The Council also agreed that the previously established review of the Society’s rules should be suspended to allow the legislative reform work to take priority.


Council members

Society President Christine McLintock welcomed a number of new Council members, while paying tribute to those retiring.

The new Council members were: Galashiels solicitor Iain Burke and sole practitioner Patricia Thom, representing the constituency of Duns, Haddington, Jedburgh, Peebles & Selkirk; Murray Etherington, in Arbroath, Dundee & Forfar; Philip Lafferty and Campbell Read, for Campbeltown, Dumbarton, Dunoon, Fort William, Oban & Rothesay; and, Naomi Pryde, the first elected representative for England and Wales.

Christine said: “I hope that you will find your time on the Society’s Council both enjoyable and informative.”

She also thanked three members leaving the Council: former president Bruce Beveridge, who laid the foundations for a “huge programme” of governance reform and raised the profile of the Society during changes to the justice system; former chairman of the In-House Lawyers’ Group and current Convener of the Equality and Diversity Committee, Janet Hood, the second longest serving member of the Council, at 17 years; and, Roy Lumsden, the former representative for Alloa, Falkirk, Linlithgow and Stirling, who took an active interest in the Society’s Legal Aid Strategic Review.

Council Meeting, 24 April 2015

Society’s strategy

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.


Trainee remuneration

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.


Society fees

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.


Council members

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.

Council Meeting, 27 February 2015

Legal aid discussion paper

The Society should work with others in the justice system to take forward reform of legal aid, the Council heard.

Council members discussed an update on the response to the Society’s legal aid discussion paper, Legal Assistance in Scotland – Fit for the 21st Century. At the time of its publication in November, the Society identified the need for “root and branch change” of the system.

Respondents to the paper broadly agreed that the system was inefficient and complicated and should be modernised to adapt to wider justice reforms. The lack of funding in legal assistance and concerns about access to justice were also highlighted. Civil and criminal legal aid practitioners raised a number of separate issues.

The President, Alistair Morris, said the Society should help bring together other key organisations to build a system that is “efficient, worthwhile and which we can all be proud of”.

Access to Justice Committee Convener Stuart Naismith agreed that the Society should work with others to drive the issue forward.

Lay Council member Dr Bronwen Cohen said the Society must also work hard to raise awareness and support from the public.

The Council agreed that the Legal Aid Committee should lead on taking the work forward, while also involving other relevant committees.


Bowen report

The Society will act on recommendations made following an independent review of consumer protections for housebuyers and sellers in Scotland, the Council heard.

Sheriff Principal Edward Bowen carried out the review of consumer protections, conveyancing practice and the existing legal framework following high-profile cases in Aberdeenshire and West Lothian where clients were left without proper title to land bought through residential property transactions.

He concluded that the separate cases arose for very different reasons and were highly complex and unusual, and did not suggest a fundamental problem with conveyancing practice. 

However, the Society has committed to taking forward recommendations in Sheriff Principal Bowen’s report, some of which are already being considered by the current independent review of the Guarantee Fund. 

Some of the suggestions made, such as the establishment of a possible new fund for homebuyers, would be a matter for Scottish ministers.

The Society is continuing to work with those involved to discuss how outstanding issues could be progressed in the two separate cases, a report before the Council said. 


Annual accounts

The finances of the Society and the Guarantee Fund are in a stable position, according the annual accounts.

The accounts and annual report for 2013/14 were before Council members.

Presenting the accounts, Treasurer David Newton explained that the Society made an overall deficit of £73,000 against a budget that aimed to break even.

However, over a two-year period reserves have increased due to a £206,000 surplus in 2012/13.

In 2013/14, the Guarantee Fund made an overall surplus of £661,000 and reserves had grown to £6.47 million at the year-end.

Council members also approved the annual report, which was described as an “excellent” publication.


Constitutional change

The ongoing process of constitutional change will feature in a document setting out key priorities for the political parties ahead of the general election, according to a report before the Council.

The report updated Council members on work being carried out on the issue of constitutional change and new powers for the Scottish Parliament. The document outlining the Society’s priorities will be published at the beginning of March.

Other Society work has included responding to the Smith Commission and examining the subsequent Scotland clauses. A response to the clauses will be drawn up.

The Society has also given written and oral evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons.

A number of events are planned for later in the year, including fringe events at the spring party conferences. 


Leslie Cumming and Joe Beltrami

Tributes were paid to two senior legal figures who died earlier this month.

The President, Alistair Morris, said the Society’s former Chief Accountant and Deputy Chief Executive, Leslie Cumming, was a “man of great integrity”.

He said that Leslie had overhauled the Guarantee Fund operations and financial compliance regime during 22 years at the Society, a contribution that earned him respect across the profession.

The President described him as “scrupulously fair but firm and honest”.

He also paid tribute to “outstanding” criminal lawyer Joe Beltrami, adding: “He had a deep sense of access to justice and the rights of the accused. He was truly a role model for many of today’s criminal court practitioners.”

He added that Joe was the last Scottish solicitor to be awarded honorary membership of the Society.

The President said the Society’s sympathies were with the men’s families, friends and colleagues.