The team approach adopted by Michael Scanlan and continued by Alastair Thornton in his Presidency means that I have been directly involved with the Office Bearers in the decision making processes for the past two years. I am also well aware of various issues facing the profession and have already been involved in these matters. The team approach means that the Office Bearers and Council are able to work more closely and more effectively in all that they do.
One of the most important issues for the Society is communication. Over the last few years the Office Bearers and Chief Executive have, between them, visited every faculty of solicitors in Scotland. Meeting members across the country and exchanging views is extremely useful and is an opportunity not only to tell Scottish solicitors what is happening in an informal environment but also to listen to members’ views and concerns.
On one Faculty visit the suggestion was made that the Committees of the Society need to make a greater effort to let the membership know what is happening. Agreed! Once the systems have been established I hope that the agenda and non-confidential minutes will be available to the profession on the website. This will mean that members can find out what is happening in Committees and give their input .
The Office Bearers want to take communication beyond faculty visits and I hope to help establish a discussion forum with the larger firms. A particular firm could have, in effect, its own “Faculty visit”, giving more solicitors who are not already involved with the Society as Council or Committee members or their local faculty, an opportunity to be involved. I also hope to contact all solicitors in a constituency area before a ‘traditional’ faculty visit so that non-faculty members and in-house lawyers can also be involved.
The discussion on member services at the AGM demonstrated a clear desire for the Society to continue to provide services to members such as the computer software offer and the new car rental deal. The provision of an additional range of services and benefits should enhance membership and provide value which could equal, or even exceed, the cost of membership. It is important however not to forget the core members’ services that are provided by the Society.
Anyone who has had to phone Bruce Ritchie on a professional practice matter knows the value of the service provided. Whilst we may not look forward to the visits of the Guarantee Fund inspectors they provide a service to members and often their advice given on inspection visits is of great assistance to firms. The Law Reform Department provides a useful service to members and a valuable service to the people of Scotland in considering legislation and promoting reforms which improve their lives. The Education and Training Department and Update are examples of the ‘classic’ services where members’ needs are identified and responded to in a positive way. Update has become the quality provider of continuing legal education in Scotland.
On 19th June, the date of publication of this Journal, the Society has been invited to give a briefing to the Justice 1 Committee of the Scottish Parliament to assist them in their inquiry into the regulation of the legal profession. It is expected that the Committee will consider self-regulation and it is anticipated that we will be asked to give evidence to the Committee later in the year.
Although we describe ourselves as a self-regulating profession, it was effectively established some time ago that we have a system of regulated self-regulation. It is the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal, independent of the Society, which has the ultimate power to order that a solicitor’s name be struck from the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland. Whether it is the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman, the Financial Services Authority or the Scottish Legal Aid Board, external bodies directly impact on the regulation of the profession and many, such as the Office of Fair Trading and the Council of Mortgage Lenders, influence what we do. Whilst the ultimate regulator is of course the Parliament to which the Society is accountable our immediate feedback as solicitors is from our clients.
The sun certainly shone on the profession at the AGM and Conference at Seamill Hydro in Ayrshire. The family orientated conference was a good mixture of work and pleasure. Many local colleagues came along and it was a pleasure to see the conference held in Ayrshire for the first time in its history. It was also a fitting close to Alastair’s Presidency, which has been a lot of work and good fun. Alastair worked tremendously hard last year and achieved much. I will do my best to carry that work forward.