Welcome to our annual report covering the period from 1 November 2017 to 31 October 2018.
As the professional body for over 11,000 Scottish solicitors, we have an overarching objective of leading legal excellence. We strive to excel and to be a world-class professional body, understanding and serving the needs of our members and the public.
As well as representing and regulating our members, we also have an important statutory duty to work in the public interest. It is a responsibility entrusted to us by parliament and one we take extremely seriously. We are passionate about maintaining and improving professional standards, ensuring the clients of solicitors are protected whenever things go wrong. We benefit enormously from the volunteerism of hundreds of solicitors and non-solicitors who give their time, knowledge and expertise without remuneration to ensure sound regulatory decisions are taken.
Our annual report covers our performance against the objectives set out in our 2017/18 annual plan. This was the third year of activity under our Leading Legal Excellence strategy.
If you have any questions about the content of our annual report, please get in touch.
A recent independent survey of the public in Scotland carried out by ComRes shows that over 90% of the public who have used a solicitor think they are trustworthy and were satisfied with the service they received. The Scottish legal profession contributes around £1.5 billion to the Scottish economy each year with the profession accounting for over 26,000 jobs.
Our call for legislative change and our push for new enabling legislation for the legal profession reached a pivotal moment this year, with a strong focus on our work throughout the year on providing our updated ‘case for change’ and responding to the independent Legal Services Review group’s request for evidence. We spent much time analysing all responses to the review, engaging with other organisations where appropriate and in particular discussing the issues with our Council, Regulatory committee and wider membership. The Roberton Report, published right at the end of our operating year, made a number of recommendations which we had originally suggested and which we support however it’s primary recommendation a new, single independent regulator for the legal profession, we stand firmly against. We will work with Government in 2019 to look at those options which support growth and continued respect of our legal profession.
During the year we provided final submissions to the independent strategic review of legal aid and a response to the publication of the review. We have developed policy positions around each recommendation. We will continue to engage with the Scottish Legal Aid Board and Scottish Government to ensure this project delivers an improved system of legal aid which serves vulnerable clients most in need of access to justice whilst properly remunerating solicitors for their valuable work in this area.
Throughout 2018 we provided a leading voice on Brexit to our members, by responding to calls for evidence from both UK and Scottish parliaments, providing oral evidence to the UK Parliament Scottish Affairs Committee on trade and foreign investment after Brexit.
We undertook our profile in the profession survey, an independently commissioned piece of research which examined equality and diversity issues within the legal profession. We had over 2700 responses, which showed an improvement in gender equality and a reduction in the gender pay gap within the profession over the last five years. There is still much to do however, and we have published our action plan for making further progress in addressing equality and diversity within the profession over the next few years.
Finally, to all members of Council, committees and working groups - an enormous thanks for all your hard work benefitting both the profession, civic Scotland and the public interest. Our unpaid volunteers are irreplaceable.
President of the Law Society of Scotland
We have gone from strength to strength this year on many fronts. Our membership numbers continued to grow throughout the year, with our core practising solicitor members reaching an all-time high of just below 12,000. We continue to safeguard our members’ interests fully and aim to protect the future of the profession in difficult times whilst promoting the public interest by having a strong legal profession with robust standards and a high level of education and skills.
Our Accredited Paralegals membership grew to 552. We attracted a 27% increase in applications to our committees from both solicitors and non-solicitors, focussing strongly on the use of all our social media platforms in our advertising.
We successfully implemented the new Anti Money Laundering (AML) regime, including implementing the rules required to deal with our duties as a supervisor – whilst working with our own new oversight supervisor, the Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision (OPBAS) the newly created regulator, which as an arm of the Financial Conduct Authority, was set up by the UK Government.
GDPR was frequently heard throughout2018 and as an organisation managing large amounts of data, we secured our own compliance by 25 May, with all staff and committee members completing mandatory training. Our commitment to GDPR extended also to support for our members producing a GDPR guide, which attracted a high number of page views on our website. This was just one of our tranches of work on our quest to continue to develop and refine innovative services for our members and their businesses.
A particular highlight for me was the launch of our Lawscot wellbeing portal a fantastic resource of support, information and signposting for colleagues across all sectors of the profession who may be, or know or manage someone who is, experiencing issues with their emotional wellbeing.
We continued to raise the profile of and funds for our social inclusion charity, the Lawscot Foundation, allowing trustees to select an additional 9 students for support and matching each with a solicitor mentor and a law student buddy.
Our focus on digital transformation and the use of technology continues apace, with technology being introduced to those of our committees dealing with sensitive material, as well as to our Board. We continue to migrate all our manual forms to online smart forms.
Of course, the many achievements of the past year have only been possible with the efforts of our Council, committees and my colleagues. They deserve our gratitude for their hard work, diligence and commitment. At the start of 2019 I celebrated ten years as Chief Executive. Throughout that decade it has been and remains an immense privilege to be part of this team. It has been a personal pleasure to watch colleagues develop, grow in confidence and increase their contribution to the Law Society, an organisation that in turn has become more modern, more flexible and indeed itself, primed for the future.
CEO of the Law Society of Scotland