President's message: In an eventful month the Council and Society have been making every effort to improve services for members and the environment in which they work

Both staff and Council are working to implement changes in the Society’s management and governance which will ensure it is fit for purpose in the years ahead – from education and training to professional support – at the lowest cost possible in challenging economic times. The cost of the practising certificate was therefore uppermost in our minds during the process of preparing next year’s budget.

As a result, and despite sustained pressure on our resources and increased workload, Council decided to hold the cost of the PC at last year’s levels. In ordinary circumstances we would be recommending at least a rate of inflation rise. This is a cut in real terms and means that we cannot do all of the things we would otherwise want to do, but this decision will go some way to minimising next year’s costs for members.

Commission costs

The annual levy for the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is a significant burden for the legal profession. I would like to thank all those who responded so promptly to the invoices, when many questioned the Commission’s significant costs, others opposed its establishment in the first place and the Society would rather not collect this fee from members. I hope a constructive relationship can be built when the new body opens its doors for business in a matter of days.

Several people have questioned why PC levels cannot be reduced as the Commission comes into force. The answer is that from October onwards, the Society will continue to handle all conduct complaints (including the new category of unsatisfactory conduct) and all service cases dating from before 1 October. Consequently, our complaints handling obligations will remain substantially unaffected by the Commission, for at least another year. The Commission may therefore have overestimated its own workload and we will press for a significant reduction in the annual levy in 2009 if there is any surplus this year.

CRO for you

Changes to the Client Relations Office will ensure that solicitors receive the best possible service from the Society in the new regulatory landscape. A new Regulation Liaison Team has been set up under Mary McGowan to offer advice and assistance to solicitors about every stage of the complaints process. More details appear on p 34 of this edition. I am sure members will find this a valuable service.

Reorganisation of CRO’s functions is one of many areas in which the Society is developing focused and cost-effective services for members. At the end of last month, Council members approved revised sets of standards for service and conduct, to be consulted on and then put to this month’s Special General Meeting. The new standards will clarify what those using legal services can expect from their solicitor – for the benefit of both the public and the legal profession.

Visions of the future

The proposals in the corporate governance discussion paper considered by Council last month will also refocus the ways we work to meet the needs of solicitors effectively and efficiently. All the Society’s functions have been examined and radical reforms to the Council, committees and departments are recommended. With the backing of Council members, we will now move ahead with some realignment of functions in the short term, followed by more extensive reconfiguration in the longer term. The profession will be kept informed and consulted. They will also be asked to vote on any fundamental changes, such as revisions to the constitution.

A passionate interest in the future of the legal profession and system was certainly in evidence at the SGM called last month to discuss changes to summary criminal legal aid. It was heartening that those present gave overwhelming backing to the Society’s representatives in the group reviewing those reforms. All those involved are well aware of the difficulties facing practitioners, particularly in the current economic climate. Equally, the cuts to summary legal aid and levels of bureaucracy – both the subject of motions at the SGM – are matters that should concern us all.

The home report challenge

It is disappointing that the Scottish Government was not prepared to back our suggestion to delay home reports because of the downturn in the property market. In response to its decision to press ahead with the introduction on 1 December, the Society is continuing to give extensive guidance to assist members with compliance. The Society has also decided to produce our own online home report pack: for more information see p 70. Any profit made on the packs will be reinvested for the benefit of members. It is an innovative response to a challenging development and further evidence of a flexible, businesslike determination to meet the needs of the profession.

I also urge members to keep in touch on this issue so the Society can continue to press the government for action on the economy. 

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