Perth based solicitor Amanda Millar was elected to become president of the Society for 2020/21.
Ms Millar, a partner at McCash & Hunter Solicitors in Perth, specialising in all aspects of mental health and adults with incapacity law, stood along side Paul Matthews, a Dumfries based solicitor.
The current President, Alison Atack, thanked the candidates for standing.
Ms Millar thanked the Council for electing her as the President of the Society for 2020/2021. She paid credit to Mr Matthews for standing in the election. She said that she was looking forward to supporting John Mullholland when he takes up the Presidential reins in May next year.
The president, Alison Atack, told the Council that Carole Ford was stepping down as convener of the Regulatory Committee at the end of the year. Ms Ford has been the convener of the Regulatory Committee since its formation in 2011. Paying tribute to Ms Ford, the president said that Ms Ford has held the post of convener of the Regulatory Committee with distinction and throughout her chairmanship she has guided the Society’s strategy in relation to all of its regulatory work. Over the course of those seven years as convener, Ms Ford has always acted in a most professional, calm and measured way. She has put the interests of the public at the forefront of the regulation of Scottish solicitors. She has also balanced that interest with members of the Scottish Solicitor profession.
Ms Ford them gave her report on the work of the regulatory committee.
Issues the committee has dealt with have included reviewing the consultation on price transparency and agreeing to issue guidance to the profession on the topic, submitting its own response to the Roberton Review and working with the SLCC on some quick fixes to the complaints system, which remains ongoing.
Over the next year, the Regulatory Committee will review the current “architecture” of all the existing Regulatory sub committees. The Committee did agree to establish a new Regulatory Sub Committee on Anti-Money Laundering. The Society had agreed the establishment of such a specialist sub committee in response to the OPBAS Report.
Ms Ford concluded her presentation by stating how much she has enjoyed the experience of being the convener of the Regulatory Committee. The president, on behalf of the Council, thanked Ms Ford for all her hard work over the past seven years. The Council noted that the Regulatory Committee had elected Craig Cathcart as its new convener for the three-year term from 1 January 2019.
The Council noted the Annual Report form the Nominations Committee for 2018. The Committee was pleased that there had been an overall increase of 27% in the number of total applications to all Committees and Sub Committees of the Society over the course of last year. This had principally been due to a greater of use of social media in the recruitment of all Committee and Sub Committee members.
Current vice president John Mulholland was confirmed to assume the office of the President of the Law Society of Scotland for 2019/2020 in May 2019.
The Council received two nominations for the post of vice president. Perth based solicitor Amanda Millar and Dumfries based solicitor, Paul Matthews.
Amanda Millar is a partner at McCash & Hunter Solicitors in Perth, specialising in all aspects of mental health and adults with incapacity law. She is the convener of the Law Society’s Professional Practice (Rules and Waivers) Sub-Committee, and an observer to the Mental Health and Disability Sub-Committee. Amanda is an accredited specialist in both mental health law and in incapacity and mental disability law, and also sits on the Society’s Board and the newly formed LawscotTech Board.
Paul Matthews was a partner in A B & A Matthews, Newton Stewart, for 29 years, a consultant to Grieve, Grierson, Moodie & Walker in Dumfries from 2015-18, and is currently a consultant to JHS-Law, also in Dumfries. He is currently convener of the Nominations committee. Paul first joined Council in 2004-5 and then returned in 2012 to date.
Alison Atack congratulated both nominees.
Profile of the Profession
The Council approved the profile of the profession research be published. The Council thanked all of the Society’s employees who had been involved in the extensive work on this profile of the profession project.
Price Transparency – “get a quote” scheme
The Council considered the paper on the above topic which set out a proposal for a “scoping project” to determine the viability of a “quotation/price scheme”. The Council noted that the issue of price transparency had been considered at the beginning of the year by the Competition and Markets Authority in England and Wales. The issue of price transparency was also raised in the Roberton Review published last month.
The Council approved the commencement of a scoping project to determine the viability of a “quotation/price scheme”.
Legal Services Review
The Council discussed the Scottish Government’s response to the Independent Review of Legal Aid in Scotland and considered in detail the Progress Report on the Roberton Review on the Regulation of Legal Services.
The Council noted that a draft detailed response to the Roberton Review would be presented to the Council for consideration at its next meeting.
The Council noted the Summary Report from the Audit Committee Meeting held on 16 November. The Council noted that the Society’s new Auditors, BDO had commenced their first Audit of the Society. This Audit covers the Financial Year 2017/2018 which ended on 31 October 2018.
The Council noted that the Audit Committee had agreed in principle to accept a role in assessing the Quality Assurance of the Society’s Anti-Money Laundering regime.
Draft annual plan
A total of 32 action points have been set out in the Law Society’s draft annual plan.
The draft for 2018/19, the fourth annual plan since the Society’s new strategy was adopted in 2015, was considered by Council members.
Issues discussed during a wide-ranging debate on the draft included the actions and objectives relating to complaints handling, licensed providers, specialist accreditation, member engagement and legal aid.
The points raised by Council members will be considered by the Board, with quarterly milestones also set. A revised annual plan will be put to the next Council meeting.
The Law Society’s draft budget for 2018/19 proposes a breakeven position with a contingency fund of £100,000.
The draft budget also seeks to reduce costs and recognises the need to increase income from non-core income streams, Council members heard.
A discussion among Council members considered issues around employment costs and the timing of the budget.
Subject to comments made during the discussion, the draft budget was approved by the Council.
The Law Society President, Alison Atack, welcomed new Council member Serena Sutherland, who is based in Kirkwall, Orkney.
Ms Sutherland was elected to represent solicitors in the constituency of Dingwall, Dornoch, Elgin, Inverness, Kirkwall, Lerwick, Lochmaddy, Portree, Stornoway, Tain and Wick.
The president hoped Ms Sutherland and three other recently elected Council members – Amanda Davy (new lawyers), Waqqas Ashraf (Greenock, Kilmarnock and Paisley) and Struan Ferguson (Haddington, Peebles, Jedburgh, Duns and Selkirk) – would enjoy their time on the Council and contribute to debates.
Key issues dealt with by the Regulatory Committee this year include how the complaints handling system could be improved and the response to the new anti-money laundering regime, the Council heard.
Convener Carole Ford outlined the issues in a report to Council members about the work of the committee for the first six months of 2018.
She said the committee was continuing to work with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to identify possible improvements to the process for handling complaints against Scottish solicitors.
She also gave the Council a detailed update on how firms had responded to the new anti-money laundering regime, which was introduced fully earlier this month.
In other issues, Council members discussed the Law Society’s ongoing consultation, Price transparency – promoting consumer choice, which is seeking views on the benefits and challenges of price transparency for legal services. The possible commoditisation of legal services was among the matters raised.
Client Protection Fund
A further freeze of the annual Client Protection Fund fee was agreed by Council members.
As a result, the 2018/19 fee will remain £180, the level it has been held at since 2013/14.
Fees to the fund, which protects clients who have lost money because of the dishonesty of a solicitor or a member of their staff, are paid by partners or directors in solicitors’ practices.
The Council heard that the reserves held by the fund are currently more than £6 million.
Legal Practice Board of Western Australia
An overview of the system of self-regulation of legal practitioners in Western Australia was provided to Council members.
Libby Fulham, Executive Director of the Legal Practice Board of Western Australia (LPBWA), gave the presentation to the Council.
She said that LPBWA has statutory responsibility for the regulation of the state’s 6,200 legal practitioners.
She explained the way they inspect firms and manage their compensation fund, how legal practitioners and practices are admitted and licensed, and how conduct complaints are handled.
She added that Western Australia is still the only state with a truly self-regulatory system for legal practitioners in Australia.
The President, Alison Atack, thanked her for the presentation.
President and Vice President
The new President and Vice President of the Law Society took up office at today’s Council meeting.
Alison Atack took over the presidency from Graham Matthews, while Falkirk-based solicitor John Mulholland became the new Vice President.
Alison, who joined the Council in 1998 representing solicitors in Glasgow and Strathkelvin and is the current Convener of the Client Protection Sub-Committee, retired as a partner at Lindsays in Glasgow earlier this year.
She said that, after leaving private practice, she could focus all her efforts on her new role and the busy year that lay ahead.
She added that there were some major issues for the Society to face, including the next steps in the reviews of legal aid and legal services regulation as well as responding to the continuing negotiations on Brexit. She also promised to work to improve equality and diversity in the profession.
She paid tribute to her predecessor, saying he had travelled the length and breadth of the country meeting and listening to members. She described him as “ambassador for the profession”.
The outgoing president, Graham Matthews, thanked all those who had provided him with support during the past year.
The Council paid tribute to two retiring Council members, while welcoming three new members.
Those retiring, former President Eilidh Wiseman and Stuart Naismith, a previous Convener of the Access to justice Committee, were both thanked for their hard work on behalf of the Society.
The current President, Alison Atack, said Eilidh, a Council member representing Edinburgh since 2009, had committed herself wholeheartedly to the profession, the public and the Council, displaying warmth, passion, good humour and integrity for all Scottish solicitors – those currently practising and future generations.
She added that Stuart, who was elected to the constituency of Paisley in 2005, had all the best qualities of a Council member. His personal integrity, pride in the profession and common sense resulted in a willingness to the “speak truth to authority” by challenging the consensus and asking the questions others may not wish to ask.
Three new members were welcomed to the Council: Amanda Davy, who was elected as the new co-opted member for recently qualified solicitors; Struan Ferguson, representing the constituency of Haddington, Peebles, Jedburgh, Duns and Selkirk; and Waqqas Ashraf, who was successful in the by-election for Greenock, Kilmarnock and Paisley.
Annual general meeting
A majority of solicitors voted to increase the cost of practising in 2018/19, the Council heard during a report on yesterday’s annual general meeting.
Council members were told that the vote would result in a £15 rise in the practising certificate subscription to £565, the first increase in nine years.
The meeting heard that the AGM also held discussions about alternative business structures and proxy voting, and approved the 2016/17 annual report and accounts of the Law Society, the Client Protection Fund and the Scottish Solicitors’ Benevolent Fund.
Trainee solicitors in Scotland should receive a pay boost next year, the Law Society Council recommended.
The recommended rates for trainees in first and second year during 2018/19 should be £19,000 and £22,000 respectively, increases of £1,000 and £500.
The pay gap between first and second-year trainees has grown as annual increases have previously been based on a percentage figure rather than a flat rate. The new rates, which will apply from 1 June, are intended to spread the salary over two years and reduce that gap.
The difficulties many high street firms face meeting the cost of taking on a trainee were discussed by Council members. The potential in the future for trainees to appear in court after three months, which would help with affordability, was also raised.
The President, Graham Matthews, said later that trainees were an integral part of the profession and should be fairly rewarded and remunerated for the work they do.
He added: “We recognise that economic conditions remain difficult for many firms and organisations, and that they are under pressure to control their costs, including salaries.”
He said that, despite the long-term benefits, some simply could not afford to take on a trainee, while the only viable option for others was to pay below the recommended rate.
The recommended rate is not compulsory but it is often used as a benchmark by employers. The Law Society does not accept any training contract for registration where the salary is less than the living wage as set by the Living Wage Foundation.
The first increase in the practising certificate (PC) fee in nine years was agreed in principle by the Council. The proposal will now be put to members at the Society’s annual general meeting on 31 May.
A paper before Council members recommended a rise of £15 in the 2018/19 PC fee, to £565.
The Society’s Treasurer, John Mulholland, described the proposal as a modest increase in line with inflation, also pointing out that the fee had not increased for eight years.
During a debate, Council members raised issues around the timing of setting the fees and the possibility of differential PC rates.
Council members also agreed that next year’s retention fee should remain unchanged at £100, while the non-practising membership fee should be increased by £5 to £205.
The Law Society’s President thanked two outgoing Council members for their hard work and diligence in serving their constituents.
Graham Matthews paid tribute to Iain Burke (Haddington, Peebles, Jedburgh, Duns and Selkirk) and George MacWilliam (Dingwall, Dornoch, Elgin, Inverness, Kirkwall, Lerwick, Lochmaddy, Portree, Stornoway, Tain and Wick) for their contributions to the work of the Society.
He said Iain, who joined the Council in 2015 and had decided not to seek re-election, had served his constituents diligently and undertaken a huge amount of work as Convener of the Equality and Diversity Committee.
He added that George MacWilliam, who was retiring after seven years on the Council, had carried out valuable and painstaking work on governance matters and shown a wholehearted commitment to the Society, also serving on the Property Law Committee.
Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
A further above-inflation increase in the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission’s draft budget and levy was discussed by Council members.
The Council heard that the SLCC is proposing a 5.2% rise in its draft budget for 2018/19. A proposed increase of up to 10% in the levy which must be paid by solicitors would follow a rise of 12.5% in 2017.
The Law Society called on the SLCC to find ways to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, as is the case with other complaints handling bodies, and reverse the increase, particularly when the most recent figures show that the number of complaints requiring an SLCC investigation fell.
A discussion among Council members also considered the impact of the budget on different sectors of the profession.
The Society will respond in writing to the consultation on the proposed draft budget and levy.
New lawyers’ representative
The Council representative for newly qualified Scottish solicitors and trainees who have been admitted to the profession is to be elected for the first time, it was agreed.
The Council decided to adopt the new procedure to fill the vacant post, which will allow solicitors up to five years qualified and trainee solicitors to vote online. Previously, the NQ representative has been appointed by a panel of interviewers.
The successful candidate will hold the post until 2020 when all current co-opted members’ terms of office expire.
The Council seat for newly qualified solicitors was first introduced in 2009 to ensure that the specific needs of those in the early stages of their careers were reflected in the decision-making process.
Elections are also being held for ten seats in six constituencies across Scotland and also for Scottish solicitors working in England and Wales. Voting will take place in May.
Legal aid review
The report into the independent strategic review of legal aid is an important document that could shape the system for many years, the Council heard.
Council members considered the Rethinking Legal Aid, An Independent Strategic Review report, which was published at the end of last month.
The Law Society had called for an independent, strategic review to ensure that legal aid works for all those who need it, and broadly welcomed its recommendations.
During a debate, Council members were told that meetings with local faculties and Scottish ministers were due to be held to discuss the report. A detailed response to its recommendations is also being prepared.
The report by Martyn Evans concluded that Scotland needed to “rethink legal aid” and take a “fundamentally new approach”.
The draft annual accounts of the Society and the Client Protection Fund were considered by the Council.
Society Treasurer John Mulholland outlined the Society’s finances for the year up to the end of October last year. The draft annual report and accounts were approved and will now be presented to the Law Society’s annual general meeting in May.
The draft annual report and accounts for the Client Protection Fund were also before the Council and will be put to the AGM.
Falkirk-based solicitor John Mulholland was elected to become vice president of the Society for 2018/19.
The criminal law consultant and current Society Treasurer stood for election along with Glasgow solicitor Austin Lafferty. The current Society Vice President, Alison Atack, was confirmed as next year’s president.
The current President, Graham Matthews, thanked the candidates for standing. The next president and vice president will take up their positions at the end of May next year.
A partner at Lindsays in Glasgow, Alison joined the Council in 1998, representing solicitors in Glasgow and Strathkelvin. She is the current Convener of the Client Protection Sub-Committee and has been a member of the Regulatory Committee. She praised Graham Matthews as an excellent mentor and thanked Council members for their support.
John Mulholland works at Marshall Wilson Law Group and joined the Council in 2012, representing constituents in Alloa, Falkirk, Linlithgow and Stirling. He is a member of the Society’s Board and the current Convener of both the Nominations Committee and the Finance Committee. He paid tribute to Austin Lafferty as a great ambassador for the profession and Council member.
Austin Lafferty, a former Society president, will continue to contribute in his roles as Council member and Convener of the Professional Practice Committee.
The Regulatory Committee dealt with a number of key issues as well as important routine work during 2016/17, the Council heard.
Convener Carole Ford gave a presentation on the work of the committee to Council members.
She explained that specific issues had included involvement in the response to the Scottish Government’s independent review of legal services and working with the Society through its Project 80:20. The committee also worked with sub-committees to implement audit recommendations aimed at improving efficiency.
Routine issues considered by the Regulatory Committee during the year included monitoring the work of the sub-committees and making minor amendments to the overall regulatory regime.
Carole Ford emphasised that the work of the Regulatory Committee was about more than complaints handling.
The Society President, Graham Matthews, thanked committee members for their hard work throughout the year.
Ethel Houston OBE
Tribute was paid to former Council member Ethel Houston OBE, a pioneering Scottish solicitor and Enigma codebreaker who died at the end of November aged 93.
Society President Graham Matthews said Miss Houston – as she was always known – was an amazing and great lady of a “selfless generation”, with a sharp mind and a kind and modest nature.
He explained that during the Second World War, she served, in her words, as a “junior member of Alan Turing’s Team at Bletchley Park” and worked as part of the Enigma Codebreaking Team.
She was admitted as a solicitor in 1947 and, two years later, became one of the first women to be made partner in a Scottish practice. In a distinguished legal career that spanned almost 50 years, she was one of the first two women solicitors to join the Society’s Council, in 1975. She was one of only two women ever to have been granted honorary membership of the Society.
The Council offered deepest sympathies to her family.
Current Society Vice President Alison Atack was nominated to become next year’s president.
The sole candidate for the position, she will take over the 2018/19 presidency from Graham Matthews next summer.
A partner at Lindsays in Glasgow, Alison joined the Council in 1998, representing solicitors in Glasgow and Strathkelvin. She is the current Convener of the Client Protection Sub-Committee and has been a member of the Regulatory Committee.
Two Council members were nominated for vice president in 2018/19: Glasgow solicitor Austin Lafferty and Falkirk-based criminal law consultant John Mulholland.
Austin Lafferty runs his own multi-branch firm in and around Glasgow, advising individuals and businesses on a wide range of issues. He joined the Council in 2006 and is the current Convener of the Professional Practice Committee. He served as president of the Society in 2012/13.
John Mulholland works at Marshall Wilson Law Group, and previously ran his own firm for almost ten years. He joined the Council in 2012, is a member of the Society’s Board and the current Law Society Treasurer. He is Convener of both the Nominations Committee and the Finance Committee and sits on the Appeals and Reviews Sub-Committee.
Graham Matthews congratulated the candidates on their nominations and said he looked forward to working with them in the future.
Equality and diversity
Measures to promote the Society’s equality standards were debated by Council members.
Iain Burke, Convener of the Equality and Diversity Committee, explained that the ten standards were published in 2015 as guidance and remain voluntary.
He invited Council members to consider how best to improve engagement with the standards among solicitors.
The possibility of compulsory sign-up to the standards was discussed, though reluctance to impose additional regulation on practices was expressed. Also, part of the ethos behind the standards is to encourage a change of culture, which would be better achieved on a voluntary basis, the Council heard.
Other possible measures included online training on the standards and promoting them to the criminal group of legal practices and local faculties.
The proposals will now be considered by the Equality and Diversity Committee.
A total of 29 out of 34 annual plan projects were achieved during 2016/17, the Council heard.
Giving an update on the plan, which covered the period up to 31 October 2017, Chief Executive Lorna Jack explained that two of the projects not delivered exactly as planned were outwith the control of the Society.
The detailed report setting out the quarterly milestone for the 2017/18 annual plan were also put to the Council.
Possible changes to the system for handling complaints against Scottish solicitors were debated by Council members.
A paper before the Council outlining a number of options was put together partly in response to the current 80/20 project to review the Society’s current regulatory model as well as the Scottish Government’s independent review of legal services.
The paper considered how a complaints system may operate after both the 80/20 project and the legal services review have been completed.
A discussion among Council members explored a range of issues, such as potential short-term and longer-term changes and also the complaints systems used in other jurisdictions.
The meeting heard that any proposals put forward must be straightforward for the public, including clear definitions of a service complaint and a conduct complaint.
The Law Society’s Regulatory Committee will now consider the paper and any proposed reforms to the complaints system.
Plans to extend the length of time a solicitor can take a career break, including maternity leave, and still retain an unrestricted practising certificate were backed by the Council.
A final decision on the move to lengthen the absence period from 12 to 13 months will now be made by the Law Society’s Practising Certificate Sub-Committee.
The proposal was first put forward to ensure those on maternity leave would not lose out when they returned to work after being absent for the full statutory period, which is set at up to 52 weeks for eligible employees.
Currently, anyone returning to the profession after more than 12 months’ absence – from the roll of solicitors or from holding a practising certificate – is only eligible for a restricted practising certificate, which would limit them to working as an assistant or the equivalent in the public sector.
The new policy would apply to all types of absence for a career break, including maternity, paternity, shared and adoption leave.
The Council heard that the benefits of the new policy should be applied equally to the whole profession.
The first co-opted Council members to specifically represent solicitor advocates and the Law Society’s international members were welcomed to their new roles.
Siobhan Kahmann, who took up her position representing international members, is a qualified solicitor in Scotland, England and Wales and Ireland, and is also registered on the European list of the Brussels French-speaking Bar. She was first admitted as a solicitor in 2005 and works as a senior associate at Covington & Burling LLP in Brussels. She is also a member of the Society’s Technology Law and Practice Committee as well as the Competition Law Sub-Committee.
Tom Marshall, who was co-opted to represent solicitor advocates, was first admitted as a solicitor in 1984 and is the director of Tom Marshall Law Limited. He held the position of President of the Society of Solicitor Advocates from 2010 to last year. Tom is currently the training convener for the Society of Solicitor Advocates.
The President, Graham Matthews, said it was a great pleasure to welcome both to the Council.
Annual plan and budget
The Law Society’s draft annual plan set out 29 major actions and targets for the year ahead.
The 2017/18 plan, the third since the Leading Legal Excellence strategy was published in 2015, includes quarterly milestones that will be monitored by the Board. The Council approved the plan.
The Law Society’s budget, which proposes a break-even position by the end of the next financial year, was also approved by the Council.
A budget paper gave a summary of expenditure and assessed financial risks and long-term financial projections based on membership numbers.
A debate among Council members considered the timing of the draft budget and the renewal of practising certificates, projected membership numbers, anticipated increases in commercial income and the delivery of an ambitious programme of members services.
Cybersecurity and Street Law
Cybersecurity guidance produced by the Law Society was recognised as a “world first” for law societies at this year’s American Bar Association meeting, Council members heard.
The President, Graham Matthews, said there had also been considerable interest in the Law Society’s innovative Street Law project, particularly from the bar association in Mexico.
The ABA conference took place in New York from 10 to 14 August and was followed by the Canadian Bar Association meeting.
The Law Society’s Guide to Cybersecurity, which was published in July, sets out key risk areas, the potential impact and consequences of a cybersecurity breach and what solicitors can do to help significantly reduce the likelihood of a successful attack on their business.
The Street Law scheme focuses on practical lessons and pupil participation to bring the law to life in the classroom.
Legal services review and Project 80:20
A wide-ranging debate on the regulation of solicitors and the provision of legal services identified key issues to be considered as part of a reform process.
Matters raised by Council members will be taken into account when the Law Society produces its draft evidence to the Scottish Government’s Review of the Regulation of Legal Services.
The review, which was announced in April, has been set up to examine the framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling.
Issues identified by Council members included:
• how to respond to the unregulated market for legal services
• consideration of the reserved areas for solicitors
• the need to set out the public interest during the reform process
• how to address public confusion over the terms “solicitor” and “lawyer”
• the possibility of making incremental changes to the current regulatory regime, perhaps through secondary legislation
The President, Graham Matthews, reminded Council members that the Society had already submitted a paper to the Scottish Government setting out why changes should be made to the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980.
The need for legislative change is part of the Law Society’s five-year Leading Legal Excellence strategy.
As the midway point in the strategy has been reached, the Council was given a detailed presentation on Project 80:20 and why changes were needed to the regulation of the legal profession.
The presentation by Kevin Lang and Philip Yelland, the Executive Directors for External Relations and Regulation respectively, also highlighted issues such as considering what currently works and protecting consumers.
Client Protection Fund
The annual Client Protection Fund fee is to remain unchanged in 2017/18.
Council members agreed that next year’s fee should be £180, the level it has been frozen at since 2013/14.
Fees to the fund, which protects clients who have lost money because of the dishonesty of a solicitor or a member of their staff, are paid by partners or directors in solicitors’ practices.
The Vice President, Alison Atack, as Convener of the Client Protection Sub-Committee, advised that the current level of reserves held by the fund was £5 million.
Plans to co-opt Scottish solicitor advocates and international members to sit on the Council were outlined.
Nominations for the two new seats will be invited by the end of August, with elections due to be held in September.
Law Society President Graham Matthews said later: “It is vital that we continually strive to ensure that all of our members are represented in the decision-making process. The need for international and solicitor advocate members is a positive reflection of the increasing diversity and modernisation of our profession.”
The Council also welcomed four new members to the meeting. Three were lay members: Fiona Larg, a chartered accountant and Chief Operating Officer and Secretary at the University of the Highlands and Islands; Catriona Maclean, a senior civil servant with the Scottish Government; and, Derek McIntyre, an engineer with over 30 years’ experience at a senior level. The fourth new member at the meeting, Susan Oswald, was elected as a solicitor member for the constituency of Edinburgh last month. A fifth new member, Stephen McGowan, a co-opted solicitor member for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, could not attend the meeting.
Tribute was paid to retiring Council member, Moira MacMillan, a senior lecturer in law at Glasgow Caledonian University who was co-opted to the Council in 2013. She was described by Graham Matthews as a diligent and conscientious member of the Council.
The Law Society Council agreed to seek the power to regulate entities, which will continue to form part of the Society’s project for legislative change.
Alison Atack, Convener of the Client Protection Sub-Committee and Vice President elect, explained that the Society already operates a hybrid system of regulation as practices are insured under the Master Policy and financial compliance inspections are carried out on an entity basis.
However, legislation would be required to allow further entity regulation and charging in the future, she said.
During a lengthy debate, Council members highlighted issues such as the need to lay out clearly to the public and the profession – particularly high street solicitors – the benefits of entity regulation and how it would work in practice.
Any reforms would also have to take into account the changing structure of the profession, the Council heard. If the Law Society is given the power to regulate entities, members would be consulted about the proposed scheme, how it would work and any charging proposals.
The recommended pay rates for first and second-year trainees are to be increased, the Council decided.
Council members approved a proposal to increase the rates to £18,000 for those in their first year and to £21,500 for second-year trainees, representing a rise of around £500 in both cases.
The new rates will apply from June 2017. The recommended rate is not compulsory but it is often used as a benchmark by employers.
Concerns were raised that some practices, particularly legal aid firms, would be unable to pay the recommended rates due to economic pressures. A possible reduction in the number of trainee positions available over the next 18 months was also highlighted.
Society President Eilidh Wiseman said later: “It’s important that we strike the right balance when setting the recommended rate for trainee salaries. Trainees are the future of our profession and we want to ensure they are paid fairly for the work they do.
“However, we fully understand that while we have seen improvements in the economy, which have undoubtedly contributed to the increase in traineeships, employers continue to have to control their costs, including salaries.”
The Council has agreed a proposal to maintain the freeze on the practising certificate fee for the eighth consecutive year.
The £550 fee for 2017/18 will now be put to members at next month’s annual general meeting, the Council agreed.
Council members also decided that next year’s non-practising membership fee should remain unchanged at £200, with the statutory retention fee frozen at £100.
The Council meeting heard that the proposed PC and other fees should remain at the same level due to financial pressures on the profession, including the current economic climate and the decision by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to increase its annual levy on solicitors by 12.5%
The Council also approved the agenda for next month’s AGM.
Council members and chief executive
Tribute was paid to four outgoing Council members, while the Society’s chief executive was congratulated for winning a prestigious leadership award.
The retiring Council members – Carl Crone (Ayr, Dumfries, Kirkcudbright and Stranraer), Colin Dunipace and Jack Grant (both Airdrie, Hamilton and Lanark) and Vicky Melville (Edinburgh) – were described as diligent Council members and thanked for their contributions.
The Council’s longest-serving lay observer and member, Professor Bronwen Cohen, who will retire at the end of next month, was responsible for setting the bar for all future lay members through her measured and thoughtful approach, the Council heard. Since joining the Council in 2006, her priorities have included promoting the public interest and championing equality and diversity, added the President, Eilidh Wiseman.
Society Chief Executive Lorna Jack was congratulated by the president for winning the UK Association Excellence Award for Leadership, which recognised the enormous programme of change she has led since her appointment in 2009.
Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
The Society has strong concerns about a substantial proposed increase in the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission annual levy on solicitors, Council members were told.
The meeting heard that a consultation exercise carried out by the Society, as well as faculty visits by office bearers, had also revealed the strength of feeling among the profession over the SLCC budget and levy for 2017. It is proposed the levy should increase by 12.5%.
In response, the Council agreed a “robust” draft response to be sent to the SLCC by Chief Executive Lorna Jack. She later described the “anger and frustration” within the profession.
The Council meeting heard that there is no external, independent oversight of the SLCC, which was urged to reconsider its budget.
During the Society’s consultation, a total 160 responses were received, many from a number of solicitors within a firm or organisation.
The accounts of the Society and the Client Protection Fund were presented to the Council.
Society Treasurer John Mulholland gave details of the Society’s finances for the year up to the end of October last year. The draft accounts showed a surplus from ordinary activities of £53,000 prior to actuarial pension adjustments.
In the absence of Alison Atack, the Convener of the Client Protection Sub-Committee, last year’s annual report and accounts for the Client Protection Fund were presented by the Vice President, Graham Matthews.
The accounts were endorsed and will now be put to the Society’s annual general meeting in May.
Tribute was paid to the Society’s innovative Street Law project for its success in winning the title of Best Training Initiative at European Association Awards.
The President, Eilidh Wiseman, said it was the first European award the Society had won.
She added that the achievement would not have been possible without the support of the pupils, schools, Society staff and the project’s sponsors.
The award, which recognised and rewarded exceptional achievements by organisations around Europe, was presented at a ceremony in Brussels last month.
Street Law is an educational programme for pupils at Scottish schools in disadvantaged areas. It was introduced in 2014, after a Society review of diversity within the legal profession found that fewer than one in 12 entrants to the LLB came from disadvantaged backgrounds. In 2016, the Society delivered 30 Street Law programmes in 46 schools to more than 1,000 pupils.
The current Vice President of the Society, Graham Matthews, was nominated to become next year’s president.
Graham, one of the two Council members representing Aberdeenshire solicitors, was the only nomination and will take over the presidency from Eilidh Wiseman in May 2017.
Graham Matthews, who is a partner at Peterkins, has served as a Council member for more than ten years and sat on a number of committees, including the Professional Practice Committee and the Regulatory Committee.
There were two nominations for vice president in 2017/18:
- Alison Atack is a partner at Lindsays and represents Glasgow and Strathkelvin. She is a former member of the Regulatory Committee and currently convener of the Client Protection Fund sub-committee
- John Mulholland is Falkirk-based criminal law consultant, who represents solicitors in Alloa, Falkirk, Linlithgow and Stirling. He is the current Treasurer of the Society and the Convener of the Finance Committee.
Eilidh Wiseman congratulated the nominees and said Graham Matthews would prove to be a “powerful voice” for Scottish solicitors.
The new vice president-elect will be confirmed at the Society’s December Council meeting following a vote of Council members.
The Council approved a set of priorities for the UK Government’s negotiation on leaving the European Union.
Council members considered a draft paper to contribute to the negotiations. They heard that the Society had conducted an update to its survey of members on leaving the EU, with a number of concerns identified.
Some of the identified priorities include:
Public interest issues
- Ensuring stability in the law
- Maintaining freedom, security and justice.
- Promoting continued professional recognition and continued rights of audience in the EU
- Protecting legal professional privilege for the clients of Scottish Lawyers working in the EU or advising on EU Law.
The Society was also represented at the EU Justice Summit hosted by Scottish ministers, which covered law enforcement, civil law, EU law and engagement with the UK Government.
A discussion among Council members heard that the Society was well prepared to contribute to the process of exiting the EU.
The Regulatory Committee is developing its own communications plan, Council members heard.
The Convener of the Regulatory Committee, Carole Ford, gave a presentation to the Council.
It outlined the development of the committee, oversight of the regulatory process, issues dealt with in recent months and issues for the future.
On the issue of communications, Council members were told that the new plan included the committee publishing an annual report to raise awareness of its work to the public and the profession.
As part of its oversight role, the committee also comments on and contributes to the Society’s annual plan.
The presentation was followed by a question and answer session, which raised issues such as regulatory models used in other jurisdictions.
The Council also received an update on the Law Society’s Legal Aid Profitability Research, which legal aid firms and individuals took part in recently. The final results which look at viability and affordability of legal aid firms in Scotland will be published in early 2017.
We hope to use this research to make recommendations to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Legal Aid Board on potential ways to improve the legal aid system to enhance access to justice and to support our members.
The solicitors’ profession has a leading role to play in tackling cybercrime, the Council heard.
Mandy Haeburn-Little, Chief Executive of the Scottish Business Resilience Centre, and Detective Inspector Eamonn Keane, of Police Scotland, gave a presentation on how business and organisations can protect themselves against cybercrime.
The presentation followed the Society’s technology conference earlier in the week and also the publication of research by the Society that identified cyber security as one of the biggest issues facing solicitors.
However, the Council heard that, as advisers to many of the 360,000 small and medium sized enterprises in Scotland, solicitors could help to raise awareness of the risks.
Around 80% of the threats from cybercrime could be mitigated by some simple settings to businesses’ information technology systems, Council members were told.
More training for businesses and their staff would also help prevent cybercrime, it was added.
Issues raised by Council members in a wide-ranging discussion that followed the presentation included protecting customer data from attacks, the reluctance of some businesses to report cybercrime incidents to the police and the security settings needed for mobile devices.
The Society’s registered paralegal status is to be renamed, the Council decided.
The new name, accredited paralegal, was considered more appropriate for the high-level qualification, which is based on an extensive competency framework and has strict entrance criteria. Also, the Society is accrediting those who hold the status rather than simply registering them.
The Council heard that a major part of the Society’s new strategy is to grow its membership. The registered paralegal status is a category of quasi-membership that predates the Society’s new strategy.
The Society discussed the name change with existing registered paralegals, who supported the move.
The Society will keep members informed about the implications of the referendum vote to leave the European Union, the Council heard.
In welcoming members to the Council meeting, the President, Eilidh Wiseman, said she would write to all members about the vote. She added that the Chief Executive, Lorna Jack, had contacted Society staff, including those working in the Brussels office.
Eilidh said that consideration may be given to establishing a Society working party to look into the issue in more detail.
She later described the vote as the start of “monumental change for the UK and our relationship with the rest of Europe”, adding that full effects were not yet known.
She added that the Society would continue to monitor the issue as negotiations took place with the EU, keeping members informed throughout to ensure they can properly advise their clients.
The Society has published a referendum discussion paper, which highlights a number of areas where the law would have to change following withdrawal from the EU, and also a series of Q&As.
Governance Working Party
The final report of the Society’s Governance Working Party was considered by Council members.
The working party, which was set up in autumn 2015, considered:
- the Society’s governance arrangements, including the establishment of a new Public Policy Committee
- the remit of the Council
- the roles of Council members, the Board and Board members, the president and vice president
- induction training for Council members
The arrangements were described as principally a “tidying up” exercise. A proposal that all Council members should serve on at least two committees or working parties during their three-year term was debated and will now be considered in more detail.
Subject to some minor changes, the Council approved the governance structure, the role of the Board and Board members, the role of the president and vice president and induction training for Council members.
Tribute was paid to retiring Council member Lynda Towers, whose contributions over the past four years were described as “vast”.
The meeting heard that Lynda had joined the Council in 2012 as a co-opted member in her role as Chair of the In-House Lawyers’ Group (ILG). She led the work to bring ILG into the full governance arrangements of the Council and is stepping down as convener.
The President, Eilidh Wiseman, said she had carried out this work for the Society’s in-house members with her usual mix of diplomacy, tact and diligent attention to detail. She thanked Lynda for her exemplary service to the in-house community and the Council.
President and Vice President
A new presidential team for 2016/17 took up office today – Eilidh Wiseman as President and Graham Matthews as Vice President.
Eilidh was formerly Partner and Head of Employment at Dundas & Wilson. She was first elected to represent Edinburgh on the Council seven years ago and is currently Convener of the Education and Training Committee.
She said it was a tremendous honour to become the Society’s 53rd president. She also thanked outgoing president Christine McLintock, paying tribute to her graceful diplomacy, effortless charm and a genuine willingness to listen to others.
She said Christine’s year in office had involved key developments such as the launch of the Society’s new five-year strategy, Leading Legal Excellence, the move to new premises and the creation of the Lawscot Foundation, a charity that will provide financial support and mentoring for talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds who want to become solicitors. Eilidh promised to take that work forward in the year ahead.
Graham is a partner at law firm Peterkins and has served as the Council member representing Aberdeenshire solicitors since 2005. He is
Convener of the Society’s Professional Practice Committee. He said he had an interest in access to justice, or rather the lack of justice for many people in communities in Scotland.
On taking up the position of Past President, Christine paid tribute to the new office bearers and thanked her colleagues and the Society staff for their support.
A number of new members were welcomed to the Council.
The newly elected members were:Gwen Haggerty in Cupar, Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy; and, Anne MacDonald, David Mair and Ross Yuill, all representing Glasgow and Strathkelvin.
Tributes were paid to outgoing Council members Nick Taylor, who was not re-elected in Glasgow and Strathkelvin, and 2014/15 president Alistair Morris.
Alistair was the longest ever serving Council member, having joined in 1992. He also sat on the Board and a number of key committees, including as convener of the Guarantee Fund Sub-Committee and Insurance Committee.
Council members heard that Alistair had provided leadership to the Society, promoted the work of Scottish solicitors wherever they were based and provided unstinting support to colleagues.
In response, he said the Society had been a major part of his life for the past 24 years and it had been an honour to become president.
Issues around the European Union referendum were considered by Council members during a debate on a draft Society discussion document.
The Council heard that the Society had committed in this year’s annual plan to produce a report to help inform solicitors and their clients before the EU vote.
It was stressed that the Society was not taking a policy position in relation to the arguments for and against leaving the European Union.
Feedback was taken from members and it was agreed that a revised document would be considered at next month’s Board meeting.
The Society has already consulted widely with solicitors on the implications of the referendum. Council members were told that hustings events were also organised for Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Council members agreed a proposal to maintain a freeze on the practising certificate fee, which has remained unchanged since 2010/11.
The £550 fee for 2016/17 will now be put to members at next month’s annual general meeting.
A number of other fees were unchanged by the Council. Next year’s statutory retention fee was set at £100, the non-practising certificate member fee at £200 and the Client Protection Fund accounts fee at £400
The Council agreed with a recommendation from the Client Protection Fund Sub-Committee to set the Client Protection Fund contribution for 2016/17 at £180, which is also the same as last year.
The agenda for next month’s AGM, which will take place at the Society’s new premises at Atria One in Edinburgh, was also approved.
The Council paid tribute to a number of retiring Council members.
The President, Christine McLintock, said they had all been hard working members who conscientiously represented their constituents
Those retiring were Dominic Sellar and Ian Sievwright, both members for Glasgow and Strathkelvin, and Eileen Sumpter, who joined the Council in 2007 and stands down from the constituency of Cupar, Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy.
Deepest sympathies were expressed to the family of former Society President Norman Biggart CBE, who died last month.
Current President Christine McLintock said Norman, who held the presidency in 1982/83, had been greatly involved with the work of the Society, in particular with the introduction of the Diploma in Legal Practice in 1980.
He was one of the pioneers behind producing a new encyclopaedia of Scots law – the Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia – and was awarded a CBE for his services to the legal profession.
Survey of members
Solicitors believe the Society’s regulatory role is its most important function, according to a survey of members.
A presentation on the results was given to Council members by researchers Ipsos MORI. The annual survey was carried out among more than 500 solicitors from different sectors of the profession and gathered views on a range of issues.
It found that the Society’s highest priorities were thought to include intervening in firms where a critical failure has been identified (81%) and setting standards for solicitors and updating practice rules (72%).
Over two-thirds (69%) thought investigating conduct complaints against solicitors and prosecuting cases to the discipline tribunal was a high priority and 60% said inspecting firms to ensure compliance with accounting rules was an important function.
Among other findings, the survey recorded a slight increase in optimism in the solicitors’ profession during the past year, up to 62% from 60%, with the latter figure a jump from 53% in 2013.
Other key findings included:
- 95% of respondents agreed that the Society should continue to be responsible for representation, support and regulation of solicitors
- 85% agreed that the Society was an effective regulator of the profession
- 80% considered the Society helpful and approachable
- 74% thought the Society was effective at leading and supporting the profession
- 69% agreed that the Society’s education and training standards were flexible and promoted equal access
- 66% said the Society focused on the issues that affect individual solicitors
- 60% disagreed with the UK Government’s plan to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights
- 78% believed the Scottish Government’s policy on legal aid risks undermining access to justice for the poorest in society, while 77% backed increasing legal aid rates
The Council heard that the survey was generally regarded as positive, with members broadly satisfied with the Society’s work and services.
During a discussion among Council members, it was acknowledged that the work carried out in the annual survey needed to be linked in to the various strands of the Society’s new strategy.
Both the recommended and the mandatory minimum pay rates for trainees should increase, the Council agreed.
Council members decided that, from April this year, only training contracts above the living wage, as set by the Living Wage Foundation, would be accepted.
It was also agreed that the recommended pay rates should be £17,545 for first-year trainees and £21,012 for second-year trainees. The new rates will apply from June. The recommended rate is not compulsory but it is often used as a benchmark by employers.
The decisions follow over a year of research into trainee remuneration, including a survey of 650 solicitors, student and trainees. More than 70% of respondents supported adopting the living wage as the lowest salary accepted by the Society.
Council members heard details of the finances of the Society and the Client Protection Fund.
The Executive Director of Finance and Operations, Ken Tudhope, outlined the Society’s financial report and accounts for 2014/15.
The Convener of the Client Protection Sub-Committee, Alison Atack, presented last year’s annual report and accounts for the Client Protection Fund, which was previously called the Guarantee Fund.
The accounts were approved and will now be put to the Society’s annual general meeting in May.