Lorna Jack tells members of Society's priorities for 2009-10

Lorna Jack’s address given at the Special General Meeting on 24 September 2009

Good afternoon everyone. I am Lorna Jack, the Law Society's still relatively new chief executive. I don’t know how much longer I will be permitted to say that, but since this is my first SGM I reckon at least for today.

It’s my great pleasure to talk to you briefly about the Society's plans for 2009-10. I am going to restrict what I say to around 10 minutes and so I will touch only on the proposed priorities for the Society next year and leave the treasurer to cover the budget.

Before I do, though, let me say a few words about me and a word or two of thanks. I have been your chief executive now since January, close to nine months, and it’s been a challenging time so far. My background – I am an Aberdeen University graduate and a qualified chartered accountant with 10 years' experience in the private sector, first as an auditor and then as a finance director. I then joined Scottish Enterprise and there was chief executive of the Forth Valley local enterprise company before heading out to the US in 2002, where for the next six years I ran Scotland’s trade and investment team.

The common thread through my whole career has been changing and running organisations, often through periods of turbulent times. I guess that’s just as well!

Efforts to change

Out and about with the profession, members regularly say they don’t envy me, or that I have the poisoned chalice or words to that effect. Well, let me reassure you I don’t feel this way at all. Of course dealing with the kind of challenges that your profession and your professional body face at present means that this is hugely challenging and yes, I do have both hands full and some, but how do I feel? I feel privileged, determined and positive. Privileged to join a team who are up for those challenges, determined to play my part in this and positive about our future.

Of course there are some who have said unkind things about me, but that hasn’t dinted my spirits. Every day I see the change efforts of the Law Society team being acknowledged and that keeps me motivated. And that’s where the thanks come in. I do want to say thank you to the members who have noticed the changes and who have taken the time and trouble to mention it to us, in some cases formally and publicly. I won’t embarrass you by naming you, but know that it is very much appreciated. I don’t think that we deserve your full appreciation yet, but we are working hard to get there. And so now to the plan.

A couple more issues, if I may, before diving into the plan itself. The first is the title “Corporate Plan”. I know there are some members who don’t like that. There are members of Council who feel the same way – management speak, they might say – and to some extent I feel the same way. “Corporate” to me describes more of a business, and we all understand that is not what the Society is, but let’s not get bogged down by the terminology. The Society should be “businesslike”, and with 10 1/2 thousand members, 120 staff and over £8m of income, it needs to have a plan.

The other issue I'd like to highlight is our unprecedented transparency. The Society has had an annual plan for a couple of years now and has budgeted annually for many years. The Council has signed it off each year, but this is the first time in its 60 year history that it has opened up that plan to the wider membership for comment. The plan together with the associated budget has been on our website now for six weeks as promised at our AGM. I'd like to tell you that thousands of members have accessed it and made comment, but the honesty is there have been no concerns raised about its content.

Issues and objectives

So let me focus now on what it contains. It starts with what we believe is a summary of the six most important issues for the Scottish solicitors profession looking at the year ahead:

  1. The impact of the economic recession
  2. The advent of the Legal Services Bill – which amongst other things will allow alternative business structures and has the potential to create new sources of competition and new opportunity for the profession. It will also bring with it regulatory changes.
  3. Issues around access to justice, including the challenges of unmet demand in the civil justice side which need imaginative solutions.
  4. The future shape of the profession, particularly given our overhaul of the route to qualifying into the profession and the current challenges faced by law graduates and trainees.
  5. The relationship with the Scottish Government, whether that be re legal aid, the Legal Services Bill, dealing with the Gill Review or the review of rights of audience about to commence – all of it needs effective relationships with government.
  6. And finally, issues concerning the organisation itself – how well we represent you, how we regulate in future, how we communicate effectively and how cost effectively we can do all of that.

Where did these issues come from? Well, they were the inputs from Council at two sessions held in the past six months and where Council represented your views in doing so.

If you accept that these are the issues of most importance, and I‘d stress they are highly summarised here, then the next stage was setting about agreeing objectives for the year that broadly cover what we would like to achieve under these six areas. Again the plan itself contains much more detail in terms of these objectives (and for anyone who hasn’t read it I would commend it to you). This slide [screened at this point] shows in a highly summarised form what those objectives are. I don’t plan to read through them, but present them here to give you an idea of how they then guide the Society’s work for the coming year.

The next section of the plan covers the actual activity proposed and is structured around the three big areas of the Society’s work, these being:

  • Regulation
  • Representation and Support
  • Membership and Registration

These, together with Education and Policy, form the core business of the Society. Each area is headed up by a Council member and a director with overall responsibility for the delivery of the detailed plans contained within the document.

Regulation is headed up by Philip Yelland, and the Council convener of that area is Alison Attack; Representation and Support by Neil Stevenson (and this area includes Bruce Ritchie, recently crowned In-house Lawyer of the Year’s team), with convener Janet Hood. Membership and Registration is headed by David Cullen, our registrar, with Ross MacKay as his convener. Education & Training Policy is headed up by Liz Campbell together with Christine McLintock as convener of that very important area. You will
hear more from Christine later.

Performance measured

The final section of the plan covers the areas of activity which concern the good governance and general running of the Society. This includes the governance improvements which the Society has embarked on; our statutory responsibilities in respect of diversity; our plans for IT; HR; finance; and very importantly communications, all critical if we are to meet the challenge of becoming a more effective and efficient professional body. My deputy Henry Robson takes responsibility for these important areas.

In closing, I’d also like to highlight a further improvement to the way that the Society is operating, and that is the advent of performance measurements for all areas of the Society’s business. These are highlighted in each of the sections of our corporate plan, and describe the way in which we plan to measure and report back on progress in each area.

Some performance measures are easier to define than others. For example, we can monitor our financial strategy in a straightforward way through management accounting processes that are already in place. Others will require some new effort – for example we suggest that we will measure progress on our representation and support through surveying members on their use of and satisfaction with services that we provide. Hence the reason for the survey recently sent to you – and I’ll take this opportunity if I may to thank the 1,800 members who have provided input thus far – this will provide an initial benchmark from which we can track progress. There’s still time to complete – right up to 30 September.

And some areas will be harder to quantify, for example the measurement of how effectively we have influenced legislation through our law reform activity, which our very well known Michael Clancy heads up. But no matter how tough to set, we will have some form of performance measure for all areas of work.

In conclusion then, I hope that this has given you an overview of what the plan contains, and if you haven’t read it yet, encouraged you to do so. As I said already, David McClements will cover the budget associated with this plan, but if there are questions relating to this part then I am delighted to answer them now.

I started with thanks to members and I will end with thanks to the Law Society team. The corporate plan is the combined effort of all the staff. They took on the challenge of building up both the plan and the budget from a zero base, and have looked into every nook and cranny in an effort to be as efficient and effective as possible. They have responded with dignity and humility to the financial challenges we faced. They have my every respect and they are one of the reasons that I stay positive about our future.

Click here to access the full budget and corporate plan for 2009-10.

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