President's message: it is time to look ahead from the challenges of 2008, to how we can create opportunities in 2009

Pulling through – an ongoing process

2008 has been a year of considerable change for the profession, and we can expect that to continue in 2009, our 60th anniversary year.

We have seen change with the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, which opened in October, although it will take at least two years to judge its full impact. We are also witnessing an economic downturn and a crisis in the housing market. The introduction of home reports is, at best, ill suited if what we seek is to stimulate recovery.

The economic downturn remains the subject of considerable ongoing discussion, and the Society will continue to do all it can to address the issues as we gather feedback and offer advice to the profession. In November, conferences were held on how legal aid solicitors, sole practitioners and high street firms could survive and even grow in today’s difficult business environment. All of those were well received. There is a clear determination in the profession to see this through.

What does it take to achieve that? The Society needs to know from members how the downturn affects them. We wrote to cashroom partners recently and their responses are being pulled together to inform the Society’s advice to practitioners and develop policies to assist recovery.

The responses show that most firms are feeling the effects in some way, with those working in the property market the worst hit. A small number of firms reported no downturn in business, while others even saw the possibility of expansion through acquisition. Most appeared to be adopting a pragmatic “wait and see” approach to forward planning; there was also some evidence that practices were opting to keep staff on reduced hours rather than make additional redundancies.

Dealings with Government

Government policy was also highlighted by a number of respondents as important in plotting the way forward. Hopefully the measures contained in the pre-Budget report will make a real difference. We will continue to monitor the situation.

The legal aid system and the introduction of home reports were both causes for concern in the replies, and so they are top of the agenda for our meetings with ministers in December.

Home reports are now a reality. We continue to believe that, whatever the underlying merits of the policy, now is not the time for their introduction. Now that they are with us we will insist that there must be early and continuing review of how they are working, particularly the compulsory single survey.

We all realise that there are considerable pressures on government finances and legal aid cannot be dealt with in a vacuum. However, the members of the legal aid review group will continue to press for any savings made from the early disposal of cases to be reinvested in legal aid.

From change to progress

We must look to the future now to assess how we can take advantage of recovery when it begins to show. We need to look at where our markets are and how we access them, whether we are geared for success and whether our skills are properly directed.

The ABS debate absorbed much energy in the early part of 2008. Next year will see how the Society and profession will develop their role in that business arena.

In 2007, we commenced a major review of the Society’s governance. I hope that 2009 will see positive change in how the Society works, and resulting benefits for the profession and the public. The Society’s review of education and training is coming towards its conclusion, guaranteeing the success of the profession of tomorrow. And new professional standards will be taken forward during 2009 to allow for the brand of Scottish solicitor to be better understood, and to allow us to champion our reputation for honesty, integrity and excellence.

We knew that 2008 would be a year of challenge and of change and it has more than lived up to expectations.

2009 will be a year not only of challenge in an economic downturn, but also one in which we will have the opportunity to set the context for future progress for the profession. I wish readers every success in the year to come.

I would also like to wish you a happy Christmas and a well earned break.

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