President's message: the profession must believe in itself and build on its qualities

Hello For those who don’t know me I am the bloke with the beard in the photos you see every month of visits to local Faculties and other groups. One thing you get very good at as an office-bearer at the Law Society is smiling at photographers.

Michael Scanlan bowed out last month and now I must try to fill his shoes.  He brought a relaxed attitude and sense of fun to the job - combined with a very knowledgeable and, where appropriate, hard-hitting approach. He always addressed difficult decisions from the position of empathy with the everyday practitioner. I will try to emulate him.

I know how much readers of the Journal appreciated the quality and humour of Michael’s monthly column.  I cannot write so well in that vein as Michael and I will not try.  What I will do is try to set out for you each month some issues for the profession and how they are being addressed.  

Complaints down again

For the second year running the number of complaints to the Society against solicitors is down.  Last year they were down 5% overall.  This year to date they are down a remarkable 17%!  Even if this level drops a bit by the end of the year, it will still be significant.  One year might be a “blip”. Two years in a row looks like a trend.  Information from other countries, especially those nearest to us, indicates a strong upward trend in complaints so Scotland seems to be exceptional.  We should also bear in mind the very low level of claims for dishonesty in recent years and the possibility of a reduction in the Professional Indemnity Insurance premium later this year.  This is all down to you - the quality of the service you give to clients, your sense of responsibility and the way in which you avoid risks.  

You are a good advertisement for self-regulation, but we cannot afford to be smug.  It is important to keep up the good work.  I hope the profession can look at the successful figures as an opportunity for further change. Scottish solicitors have always changed and adapted to circumstances.  As a group we are able people who serve our clients well, and through them, society.  Society changes and we change with it.  

We must not apologise for being lawyers.  We should be proud of what we do. As I am married to a lawyer I really don’t have any alternative!  Some things we cannot change - lawyers have always had a bad press. We are perceived as establishment figures.  We are portrayed as saying “no” more often than “yes”, and as being pedantic and expensive.  We know we are not like that, but the media are fond of portraying the stereotype.  Unfortunately we have got into the habit of believing our own bad press.  Only a tiny proportion of Scottish solicitors cause serious problems but we all feel it very badly when any solicitor betrays their client’s trust. We take it personally.  This is both a strength and a weakness. It is great that we care so much - how many other professions truly do?  Repeated press coverage of the very small number of lawyers who do get it wrong, however, seems to undermine our own self-confidence. We forget all the good we do, the quality of service we give and the value for money we offer.  

We are wrong to under-value ourselves. Look at what we have.  We are well known for our independence. We are part of a respected legal system.  We have high ethical standards and we offer the public unrivalled protections.  The trust of our clients is the most important thing to us. We possess great skills which we use to the benefit of our clients and society.  Above all our values are human ones - we understand, we help and we protect.  

We can build on all these qualities. The ways in which we educate lawyers of the future, the extraordinary advances in technology and E-commerce, the creation of a Parliament in Scotland and the development of human rights are all leading the profession to think in new ways about what lawyers are and how we should operate.

The Law Society can and should help the profession with these new ways of thinking.  Collectively we must provide demonstrably useful services to benefit solicitors and add value to your membership of the Society.  We are stronger together than as individuals.

Time moves fast

One year as President is a short time.  I am sure all Presidents would like to have seen more achieved during their year, but that is all we have.  Last month the Council set up a new policy structure which will ensure continuity and consistency of approach even though Presidents come and go.  It will also help us focus on planning for the future rather than always being forced to react to events. As a result, Committees and Working Parties will have very specific remits and targets.  Short deadlines will be set. We cannot wait years for things to be achieved. We must deliver. You are entitled to expect that.

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