A member for Glasgow describes a typical month in the life of a Law Society of Scotland Council member

I joined Council in May 2001, enthusiastic about representing my constituents and looking forward to the challenges ahead. When the notice of election appeared in the Journal, I discussed the matter with colleagues at the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, where I then worked, and two of them nominated me. I wanted to join the Council because I thought that I could contribute something of value in terms of a different perspective on issues, having practised in two other jurisdictions before qualifying in Scotland.

I knew that Council meets on the last Friday of the month and that ‘Committee Day’ is the first Thursday in each month, but I had little idea of what Council membership really involved, how much of a fitness test carrying the Council papers would be, or just how stimulating and rewarding I would find it. Let me take last November as an example of a typical month.

1st November. The oath of office which has to be taken by new Notaries can only be administrated by a Notary who is a Council member. I administer this oath to two solicitors. The opportunities for newly qualified solicitors are many and varied although the market is incredibly competitive. I do feel a sense of satisfaction in playing this small part in setting people off on their careers. On returning to my office I look at my intray – the usual correspondence and the reams of papers for next week’s Committee Day.

I am the Convenor of one of the five Client Relations Committees and a member of the Client Care Committee, which oversees the workings of the Client Relations Office. My Client Relations committee papers include a copy letters, reports and correspondence on eleven complaints. There are also papers for an Ethics Workshop which I am taking as part of the Practice Management Course the following Friday and papers for the Client Care Committee. I read the committee papers during the first couple of days of the following week (between doing other things), but leave the Ethics workshop papers to read on the Thursday evening.

7th November – Committee Day. After a morning’s work in the office in Glasgow, I arrive at the Society at lunchtime. Meeting Council and committee members and the Society’s staff for a chat over a quick lunch which is a really good opportunity to exchange views and helps keep me in touch with the wider legal world. The Client Relations Committee kicks off at 1:30pm and lasts for just under two hours. Until Parliament gives the Council power to delegate decision making to committees, they can only make recommendations to Council but this is a quasi-judicial function and each complaint must be carefully considered and the correct tests applied. Next is the Client Care meeting, which runs from 4:00pm until 5:30pm; that leaves me the evening to prepare for the workshop the next day.

On Friday morning, I clear some of my own intray (which I have taken to Edinburgh) and discuss some Society work with relevant members of staff, before attending the Practice Management Course in the afternoon. The workshop is a great opportunity to meet practitioners from other parts of Scotland, and from other practice areas, and to get some feedback as to their perspectives on ethics issues.

Tuesday 12th November. I am in Edinburgh on business, so call in at Drumsheugh Gardens to approve the committee minutes with the committee secretary. I get back to my desk for a few hours before going to Hamilton to be a judge in a first-round heat of the Society’s inter-schools debating competition. This competition, now in its fifth year, has been a tremendous success and provides an excellent opportunity for young people to develop valuable skills which some may develop as part of the next generation of solicitors.

The rest of the week sees a manageable flow of Society work; a steady flow of electronic and conventional mail, mostly ‘for information’. A would-be trainee is in contact with me about the training regulations, and there is a flurry of e-mails back and forth to the Society.

I am also involved in dealing with the Society’s input to the proposal of Scottish Ministers to abolish the Scottish Conveyancing and Executry Services Board (SCESB). The Council was consulted on this from an early stage, and agreed in principle to the request of Scottish Ministers that the Society should take over the responsibilities of SCESB. I chair a small working party which is working with the Justice Department on detailed issues concerning implementation of the proposal. A meeting is scheduled for 28 November.

On Monday 18th, I am reminded that I agreed to write an article on effective communication with clients. I work on a draft between meetings. Meanwhile, I deal with some correspondence and more e-mails from the would-be trainee. There are also more e-mails and phone calls about SCESB and discussions about Society involvement in a schools project which aims to improve the legal awareness of secondary-school children.

Thursday 21st November. I concentrate on clearing the decks in preparation for the thud of Council papers landing on my desk the next day – they are well over two reams in volume. Delegated powers is a must for Council members’ sanity as well as freeing the Society’s Council to concentrate on policy issues. Some papers I have seen as a committee member; most will be new to me – all will be read before the Council meeting.

The following week, I set two days aside with no Society work. On the Wednesday I am in Edinburgh for a meeting about the schools project, then for a training session on handling Client Relations cases. I stay overnight in Edinburgh, since Thursday is the day of our meeting with the Justice Department about SCESB. The Society team have a briefing in the morning, then we meet with the Civil Servants. One of the most rewarding things about being a Council member is feeling that you can make and are making a difference and helping to improve the law and the legal system in Scotland.

Friday 29th. The Council meets from 9:30am until just after 4pm with a half hour break for lunch. A substantial part of the morning is spent discussing the future management of complaints against solicitors and delegated powers, then we get onto the nitty-gritty of various committee recommendations.

Saturday is the last day of the month. Having been away from my desk for three days, I take a look at my in-tray. The papers for next week’s committee meetings are there – the cycle begins again.

Council members have a great deal of reading to do, but this will diminish later this year if ( as seems likely) the Scottish Parliament approves powers for the Council to delegate its functions. The profession can only flourish if it is led by an effective and enthusiastic Council, assisted by an effective Committee system. Most of the Committees contain non-Council solicitors, whose contribution to the work of the Council is of enormous benefit to the profession and offers the individual the same opportunities for self-fulfilment as those enjoyed by the Council members.

I’m glad I put myself forward for this work. I enjoy it enormously and find it stimulating and intellectually satisfying. I would encourage all solicitors to consider whether they can contribute. The number of Council members is limited; we cannot all be members of the Council, but there are plenty of opportunities to contribute through the Committee system, and without waiting for the next election in your constituency.

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