President's message: leaving the Presidency after 21 months, Richard Henderson continues to urge solicitors to look and plan ahead for the opportunities that are bound to arise

Driven by confidence

In writing the last in this series of contributions for the Journal I was tempted to look back and review the past 21 months. But looking back is only of value if it helps us better to address the future.

As I write, the Chancellor has just delivered his Budget and, yes, we remain in the grip of recession. In recent months the profession has faced real shocks to the system – redundancies, short time working, pay reductions – harsh realities none of us would have thought possible a couple of years ago. But it is also possible to talk ourselves further into a mire: unnecessarily so. Now is the time to look to the future, plan and ensure we are at the forefront of the recovery.

The Scotland plc Awards 2009 in late April provided ideal examples of Scotland’s success stories, even in the midst of the current troubles. At the ceremony in Glasgow I was struck by the energy of all the nominees and the confidence that exists for the future in Scotland. The awards covered both domestic Scottish activity and entrepreneurial achievement in the global marketplace; there is a lot going on which is positive, much of it driven forward by confidence and resulting in success, and all of it involving solicitors.

Eastern promise

Further afield, there was also a sense of real energy and genuine optimism among lawyers from a variety of jurisdictions at last month’s Commonwealth Law Conference in Hong Kong. As well as that, I found, as I have found everywhere I have represented it, real respect for the Scottish solicitors’ profession, not least among our own members in practice around the world. The message from those in Hong Kong was that they value being part of the global family of excellence in law that is signified by the badge of the Scottish solicitor.

There is considerable potential to develop the Scottish legal services market in the Far East, and the Society’s workplan for the coming year includes support for the profession to look outside the ordinary scope of our activity for business opportunities. To that end, the Society is working hard with government – I met with representatives of both the UK and Scottish Governments while in the Far East – to produce strategies that can maximise the Scottish profession’s market share on a worldwide basis. We are determined to support solicitors as they develop their businesses, and I am confident that the profession will respond to the challenge of the changing marketplace.

The challenge holds the key

The market has thrown down a challenge for our profession at home, just as it has abroad. Law is at the centre of a successful society; we need to be flexible and innovative to ensure that message is understood and that we as a profession live up to it. The key to success, so strongly underlined in the recent High Street conferences for practitioners, will lie in how the profession responds to that challenge. Many features of the market will be different when we emerge from recession, and new ways of working will be necessary. But our skills as a profession can and should be at the forefront of that process, providing clients with professional legal advice and support on a full range of business areas.

Last June I wrote, paraphrasing the words of Baroness Helena Kennedy at the Society’s 2008 conference, that society works because of law, and it is our responsibility and our privilege as lawyers to guarantee that rule of law in order to secure its benefits, economic and otherwise, for society as a whole. That sentiment is as true today as it was then.

It has been an immense honour to have held office as President, especially at a time of such change for us all. Twenty months ago when I was elected, the landscape for the profession was quite different. We faced many challenges then and we confronted them, moving forward on the ABS agenda, on standards, governance, education and training, on the Commission. Would we have started on those had we recognised then the scale of the economic problems we would also face? There were shadows on the horizon as the credit crunch began to show in the US, but I do not think anyone could have fully envisaged the scale of the issue as it has turned out. But I think we did the right thing then and we are doing the right thing now in addressing all those challenges, because they hold the key to future success for the profession. I am confident that the profession is up to all the challenges and will emerge stronger and better able to help develop Scotland to meet its future.

Finally, no one who holds this office does things alone, and I would like to thank the Vice President Ian Smart, Council members and all the staff at the Society for their valuable help, support and advice during my term as President. There is much to do but I am confident that we are heading in the right direction with a Society, Council and staff who are totally committed to a bright future for the profession.

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