President's message: The Society's 60th anniversary year is shaping up to be another busy one, on many fronts

Out of the blocks

The early days of 2009 suggest that the Society’s 60th anniversary year will be a busy one. On New Year’s Day itself, our new professional standards for both conduct and service came into effect. The standards are a forward-thinking measure designed to champion the profession while benefiting both solicitors and their clients.

Four days later, we welcomed Lorna Jack as the new Chief Executive of the Society. I am sure I speak for everyone when I wish her good fortune in her new role, and I know she is looking forward to making the most of the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Only two days after that, the Scottish Government published its consultation paper on the regulation of legal services in Scotland – “Wider choice and better protection”. This consultation is in anticipation of the Legal Profession Bill, which will be a major focus in the year ahead as it lays the foundations for alternative business structures.

Also in January, the Judicial Appointments Board will contact all solicitors and advocates in Scotland to identify the makeup of the eligible population for judicial appointments and how that might change in the coming years. It will also identify whether there are any actual or perceived barriers inhibiting candidates from applying for judicial posts. I would urge members to respond to these important consultations.

60 years of progress

Anniversaries are usually about reflecting on the past – and the Society will be celebrating the progress of the profession over the past 60 years in our programme of events. There will also be a focus on the future and forthcoming challenges, such as responding to the “Wider choice and better protection” consultation. We will be working to ensure that a robust regulatory system is in place to protect access to justice and the provision of legal services in any new regime.

We will also continue to pursue a modern, businesslike agenda – including reform of our own governance arrangements – to provide our members with high quality services in an efficient and cost-effective way.

For the profession, much energy will be taken up ensuring that businesses not only survive in the current trading environment but are also in the best possible position to grow when the economy recovers. The Society and the profession always achieve most by working closely together. Hopefully

we can build further on that collective sense of purpose to help the profession flourish. These challenges are hard and we are in difficult times, but responding to them is critical to success.

The “Law in Scotland” conference to be held in Edinburgh in May will be one of the key events of the 60th anniversary celebrations, and an excellent opportunity to bring the whole legal community together in showcasing the achievements and the potential of the profession. The conference has been planned to appeal to as many practitioners as possible, with different streams of sessions covering everything from delivering services to clients and also issues which underpin the practice of law and indeed the place of law in society.

Renew the vision

Talking of 60th anniversaries, last month marked the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris. It is difficult to overstate the importance of that declaration, described recently by the UN Secretary General as “the first global statement of what we now take for granted – the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings”. But it is perhaps because we now take those things for granted that at times we fail properly to value them or to notice when they are under threat, whether at home or abroad.

In Paris in December I listened to Stephane Hesser, a member of the French delegation to the group which prepared the draft declaration in 1948. He talked with clarity and energy about the events of years ago. But, more importantly, he also spoke with vision of the challenges that face us all today in the field of human rights and in the face of the continued abuse of people around the world.

In considering our own future as a profession, and even amidst testing economic times, it is worth reminding ourselves that the business of law does not simply require us to serve the needs of individual clients; it involves recognising and furthering the rule of just law wherever we can make a difference. That is our responsibility and privilege, both as we look back on 60 years of the solicitors’ profession and as we look to the future.

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