President's message: the new President's perspective on what is likely to dominate the agenda during his year in office

Just over 11 years ago, I was elected as the Council member for the sheriff court districts of Peterhead, Banff and Stonehaven in succession to Jock Smith, who had also been President of the Society. Little did I imagine then that I would continue to follow in his footsteps.

Much has changed in that time: at the Society, within the profession and in terms of the wider political landscape. For a start, there was no Scottish Parliament, though the introduction of devolution was just around the corner. Inevitably, this brought about a busier legislative programme for Scotland and, as a result, much of the work of recent Presidents has involved responding to the demands of the parliamentary process. I suspect that trend will continue during my term of office.

I also imagine some interesting times lie ahead, not least as we adapt to minority government. Coincidentally, I will have the honour and privilege of serving as President of the Society at the same time as the Scottish Executive is led by another with connections to Banff and Buchan: the First Minister, Alex Salmond.

I am sure that my immediate predecessor, Ruthven Gemmell, would agree that the demands of responding to legislation can seem all-consuming, although Douglas Mill and his team at the Society, and the profession itself, should take great credit for the many improvements made to the original Legal Profession and Legal Aid Bill, now an Act. Before the end of his year, Ruthven set in motion the process for producing a strategy that will dictate the future direction and development of the Society’s activities. I thank Ruthven for establishing the direction of travel – and for all his efforts over the past year – as I now take forward implementation of the strategy and the setting of standards of excellence in qualification, professional development and service to add to the core values of integrity, independence and confidentiality.

There have been significant changes to the makeup of the profession during the past decade or so: the average age of solicitors has fallen; more women than men are entering the profession; and almost a third are in-house lawyers. Yet, one of the strengths of the profession is its diversity, along with a commitment to the “Scottish solicitor” badge. In seeking to maintain that unity of purpose, the Society must ensure that all sections of the profession receive value for money in terms of service and membership, particularly with the imminent establishment of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which will lead to the imposition of an annual levy additional to subscriptions.

The immediate priority is to ensure that the profession is well prepared when the Commission starts operating by next autumn. This not only involves proactively setting standards that will benefit both solicitor and client, but also requires the Society to inform and educate the profession about how the Commission will work. I would encourage all faculties to get in touch with Philip Yelland if they have not already done so to arrange a faculty roadshow.

My own series of meetings with the profession began with a visit to the Shetland Faculty last month, before I took up the presidency. The meeting was well attended and I would like to thank those members for their engagement and hospitality. I am due to follow that this month by crossing the length of the UK to attend a London reception and discussion forum, where our members based in England will discuss the impact of Westminster’s Legal Services Bill and other issues.

The Society was pleased to support last month’s plenary session of the Council of European Bars and Law Societies, hosted by CCBE President Colin Tyre QC, in his native city of Edinburgh. Colin is the second Scot after Sir David Edward to hold the presidency, further evidence that our relatively small jurisdiction continues to punch above its weight. Society past President Martin McAllister has ably represented our interests on the UK delegation for the last four years and I would like to thank him for his efforts and hard work. I have every confidence that Ruthven will look after our interests well now that he has taken over as the Society’s representative.

I can assure members that I will strive to advance the interests of the profession and their clients during my year as President. In seeking to achieve my key objectives, I also hope to carry on the good work carried out by Ruthven – and Caroline Flanagan before him – on communication, independence and access to justice.

I am comforted by the fact I will be ably assisted by the new Vice President, Richard Henderson. I welcome him on board for what promises to be a challenging year ahead.

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