President's message: Attending conferences of foreigh legal societies provides a better perspective on our own problems

August in the presidential year is conference month. The American conference in Chicago was quickly followed by the Canadian conference in Vancouver. I was privileged to attend both. Many people have asked why the Society attends these international conferences. In my view it is important that the Law Society of Scotland is seen and the Scottish profession’s views heard at these conferences. It is easy to become insular and isolated. Discussing the issues facing other Societies and Bar Associations allows office bearers to look at the wider picture when considering policy and strategy. It is always heartening that the Society continues to be held in such high regard abroad. It is also comforting to know that other Law Societies and Associations are grappling with the same issues that face us.

The ABA conference is huge, with almost 10,000 delegates attending. Chicago, the venue this year, was very welcoming and it was therefore a little disconcerting on the first day to see a sign in a window saying “No solicitors/door to door salesmen allowed”! I had to remind myself that in America solicitors are known as attorneys.

The UK, and London in particular, was very much in the spotlight. The rule of law was debated at length. Following the bombings in London all eyes were turned to the UK and there appears to have been international relief amongst lawyers that the UK Government’s response has thus far been proportionate and considered. The tragic murder of Rory Blackhall closer to home has prompted calls for our bail laws to be reviewed. I find it encouraging that in the papers I have seen the editorials agree that lessons should be learned, but stress that we should not be rushing to change our laws without considering whether a change is necessary, whether the existing laws already cover it and whether any new law will actually achieve its intended outcome.

On a happier note, one of the high points at the ABA conference was the Women Lawyers of Achievement Awards Luncheon. This was as glitzy and as glamorous as you would expect it to be in Chicago. Hillary Clinton and five other top women lawyers received awards. They all spoke most eloquently. I found it an extremely humbling occasion. It was interesting to note that the USA is only now reaching the stage where 50 per cent of the law graduates are women. Scotland reached that mark over 15 years ago. They find that they have the same rate of attrition later on as we have here and so they were extremely interested in the joint Society and EOC survey. The same applied to the Canadians and indeed also the Australians. In due course, I will be sharing the findings on whether or not there is a “sticky floor”, as the Americans call it.

In Canada too, the messages that were sent out applied internationally. The incoming President there stressed that the Canadian legal community should choose to act to make the country better for the public good. He felt that this is best achieved by a strong and independent profession. Comment was also made by one speaker at the CBA conference that misperception can motivate people to want change. This can end up resolving problems that do not exist. Although this was said with particular reference to the Canadian court system, it had a particular resonance with me given the current desire on the part of the Executive to change the structure of the complaints handling system.

Back from Canada (calories: infinite; alcohol units: don’t want to count; sleep: minimal; number of suitcases taken: 4; number of suitcases returned with: 4; receptions invited to: 10; receptions attended: 11; result: excellent), the first engagement was at The Royal Bank of Scotland for an informal annual dinner and most excitingly a tour of the new head office at Gogarburn. This is not so much a head office as a combination of a mini-village/leisure complex/conference centre/office. The premises are superb and I congratulate the Bank on their foresight and planning. At dinner I would not have been surprised when looking out over the fields to the rear of the premises to see a herd of wildebeest come sweeping into view, so splendid was the overall effect.

And finally, I could not write this column without mentioning progress in relation to the complaints handling consultation. I understand that some 497 responses have been received, a number second only to the consultation over the ban on smoking in public, thanks largely to the Society’s promotion of the consultation to clients with complaints and to the profession. The Executive now has the task of analysing these responses. We await the result with interest.

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