Report on the Society's annual conference "Get Connected", marking 50 years of The Journal

A conference dedicated to celebrating The Journal. Shucks. Well, it didn’t seem to put too many of you off. Over 400 solicitors converged on the Edinburgh International Conference Centre on 10 March to “Get Connected”, and even if the six hours’ CPD on offer might have been understandably a higher priority for most than marking 50 years of your magazine, the theme was kept well to the fore throughout the day.

In her welcome, the President, Caroline Flanagan was kind enough to describe The Journal as going from strength to strength. Much the same could be said about the Society’s conference programme. Looking back through the old volumes, your Editor came across the entry in 1966 intimating that a number of members had suggested that the Society should have a “study weekend”, that the Council thought it a good idea but did not wish to commit the necessary funds unless there would be a sufficient response, and asking members to return a brief questionnaire so they could gauge the level of support.

They must have been reassured, because by April 1968 The Journal was able to remind readers that the Society’s first study weekend would be held in St Andrews in June. The subjects studied were the Finance Bill 1968, the future of the profession and aspects of the Land Commission Act.

Thirty eight years later, the Society’s annual conference offers more in one day than was then available in a year. We don’t know what the organisers of that first gathering would have made of sessions entitled “Mediation: Friend or Foe?”, or “Networking for Success”, never mind “Communicating Online – the good, the bad and the downright ugly”, though they might have been reassured to find latest developments in conveyancing/trusts and executries/family law all on offer, albeit in the company of newfangled subjects like employment law.

Probably, too, they would have marvelled at the facilities on offer in the conference centre of the 21st century. Once again the EICC ran a slick operation that easily dealt with the numbers present and kept the whole programme running to schedule.

“If it bleeds, it leads”

The keynote address, however, would surely have had them running for cover at the thought that it might represent legal practice in the future. Even some of today’s delegates appeared somewhat taken aback at the tour de force that was Richard Levick’s presentation.

Levick’s forte is advising lawyers, in-house or private practice, and their clients on how to manage the media during a crisis. A speaker constantly on the move on stage or round the auditorium, the eye was torn between following his progress and the succession of media-grabbing images he flashed up on screen. If a picture tells a thousand words, Levick wrote a book in his 40 minutes.

“When you’re explaining, you’re losing”, was one of his many pithy phrases that said a lot in a nutshell. Also “We don’t sue people we like”. And one familiar to Scottish solicitors through the complaints handling issue: “Perception rules – the facts don’t matter!” Talking us through what makes a story for a journalist (“If it bleeds, it leads”), and contrasting the PR handling of major events like the Exxon Valdez oil spill with the less-remembered Tylenol painkiller story (Johnson & Johnson took all their over-the-counter pain medication off the shelf, saying “our consumers are more important than our profits”, and are now rated as the no 1 customer-friendly company), he left his audience in little doubt why some stories currently filling the Scottish papers just run and run.

In fact one of the seminars on the programme helped to relate Levick’s theme to issues nearer home for most solicitors in Scotland. For those of you looking for help when smaller scale events threaten to get out of hand, try the potted version of Austin Lafferty’s talk on the next page.

A broad umbrella

Media handling, personal presentation (as with Sheena Wheatley’s seminar: see page 17) or just keeping up to date with the law – the conference covered the spectrum of practice, just as, we hope, The Journal manages to, even if not all in the one issue. Certainly Iona Ritchie, head of Update, was well pleased with the outcome.

“This year’s conference was once again the biggest legal conference of its kind in the profession’s calendar”, she commented. “The whole event had a real buzz about it and the fact that so many delegates stayed for the last panel session at 4pm on a Friday indicates that they found the programme content really interesting and relevant. Actually, the biggest challenge of the whole event was in the planning stages and deciding which particular topics to include, communication being such a huge subject matter. We are very grateful to all our contributors, of course, but Richard Levick, our keynote speaker, was a real find. Delegates came out of his session looking enthused and commenting how he had really made them think.

“The introduction of delegate folders was also hugely popular and something we will be repeating for all major events from now on. Hopefully, members who attended left with a real sense of having learned just how integral good communication is to every arena of work and proud that their Society can put on such an event.”

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