Chief executive's presentation to the special general meeting, 23 September 2011

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

It is my pleasure to present our new corporate plan, which sets out the core activity that your Society will undertake – on your behalf – over the coming year.

This is the third corporate plan that we have published, but it is the first since your Council approved a new 10 year strategy for the Society entitled Towards 2020. A huge amount of energy and effort went into thinking about where the solicitor profession was going, the challenges you face in your everyday working environments and what we, as your professional body, needed to do to support you.

It was a process that started with members of the Society’s board and then engaged the wider Council, as well as the staff at the Society. We also made a point of testing our thinking with a number of firms, and the early positive feedback we received showed us that we were very much on the right track.

But that strategy, copies of which are available here this morning and also via our website, is simply the framework – the "what" and "why".

Our corporate plan presents the "how. It underlines how the Society’s strategy is a document which will shape and guide our work, this year and for many years to come.

Historically, our corporate plans have been structured by department. However, we know the opportunities and challenges facing the organisation and the profession cut across our team structure and require inter-team working – now more than ever before.

Perhaps the most significant example of this comes in our preparations ahead of the introduction of new licensed legal services providers, which will become a reality in 2012 and on which all our teams – regulation / representation / registrars / communications / IT – are all working together. This will only increase in the months ahead.

So, what’s our plan this year?

1. Excellent solicitor professionalism and reputation

When I look back over the last year, one of the things of which I am most proud is the substantial progress we made on the new route to qualification, which came into force at the beginning of this month.

Other changes to CPD are due to come into effect on 1 November – a date that also marks the commencement of the consolidated practice rules and revised accounts rules.

It is now important for us to build on this work over the next year, with the authorisation of providers for the Trainee CPD and the creation of robust monitoring of all accredited providers. We must also ensure the consolidated rules are properly embedded, and a great deal of work has been undertaken to ensure the rules are more easily accessible and searchable via our website.

We will also learn to work in a new way with our new regulatory committee, now made up of 50% solicitors and 50% non-solicitors. The arrival of our new lay members, both on the regulatory committee and Council, has already made a big difference. I can tell you that their contribution and perspectives have been invaluable and I am looking forward to working with them over the coming year.

But in ensuring excellent solicitor reputation, we need to better understand exactly what that reputation is. That is why – later this year – we will be undertaking detailed research that evaluates the reputation of solicitors, first amongst those political decision makers who have the most ability to influence and affect the profession, before polling work that quantifies the views of the public.

We will use that work to better promote the brand of solicitor, which was a key theme that emerged from our recent meeting of the deans and secretaries of local facilities. Whether it is to political leaders, the media, civic society or the public as a whole, we absolutely recognise the important role of the Society in protecting, promoting and enhancing the reputation of solicitors in Scotland.

2. Our members are trusted advisers of choice

But sitting alongside our work to promote the profession to the public is work to help promote solicitors in their work place – to ensure they are the trusted advisers of choice.

Whatever the legal problem needing solved, whatever the legal role needing filled – whether it's in private practice or in-house – whatever the circumstance, we want to make sure that the answer is a Scottish solicitor. We want to help ensure your professional qualification – the qualification you worked so hard to obtain and which I know each of you is proud to hold – is seen as the premier qualification that is sought and valued by employers and clients alike.

3. Our members are economically active and sustainable

Of course, we realise that these are not easy times. The sustained economic turbulence has impacted the profession – big and small firms alike – for those working in-house too and particularly those facing the reality of cuts to public spending. We recognise that legal expertise alone is not enough to be successful in today’s market. That is why we have a new central objective to ensure our members are economically active and sustainable.

Over the next year, we want to see firms growing their revenues and returning to – or improving – their profit. We equally want to see a fall in the number of unemployed solicitors which, although small in percentage terms, has been slowly increasing over recent months. And we need to make sure that more of our newly qualified solicitors secure relevant opportunities.

Delivered in part through our award winning Update events team, we will be focused on delivering another 12 month programme of relevant, engaging and valuable training and professional development. We specifically want to enhance our support for trainees, new lawyers and unemployed solicitors, with new specialist courses developed for online delivery. Some of you may have seen a preview of this at our stand at our conference two weeks ago.

Sitting alongside all of this is the start of new licensed legal services providers. As things stand, we are still dependent on final regulations from the Scottish Government, now not expected until the New Year, but there is much we can and will do before 2012 to develop our regulatory scheme ahead of our application to become an approved regulator.

We know there are member firms looking at the opportunities that come with the passing of the 2010 Legal Services Act. We want to ensure, particularly as England & Wales progress their own regulatory framework, an environment that allows Scotland to stay competitive in the market for legal services. It is one of the most important pieces of work for us over the coming year.

4. The Society is the professional body and regulator of choice

This also feeds into our fourth objective of being the professional body and regulator of choice.

More than anything else, we want to be a professional body which is closely in touch with you – our members. We have an ambitious programme of engagement planned, with conferences, faculty visits and others events so we can meet with and listen to, you. As one example, this week Cameron (the President) has embarked of a tour of faculties, literally from Stornoway in the north to Dumfries in the south, covering 15 different locations.

In ensuring we remain relevant to all parts of the profession, we are also looking forward to completing the review of our In-house Lawyers Group, a project which many members have fed into and one where I am confident we will see some real practical ideas on how we can better support our in-house members.

5. The Law Society is a high performing organisation

I want to finish with a word about the staff team that I have the privilege to lead.

As chief executive, I am fortunate to have the chance to work with such a fantastic team of people. Every day, I get to see their dedication, their professionalism and their commitment to supporting you. But equally, we are a team that is far from complacent and we are determined to improve, both the quantity and quality of work, providing a better service to you our members, and to the wider public.

Indeed, sitting at the very heart of our new 10 year strategy is an objective to be a high performing organisation. The Council, our board and our various committees all have a part to play in achieving this. So too has our executive team who are absolutely integral to our success in achieving this aim.

Whether it’s improved training for our staff, taking forward our project for online renewal of practice certificates, maximising the benefits of our database system or improving our reporting against defined key performance indicators, we recognise there are many areas for improvement in terms of the way we work. We are committed to seeing through those improvements.

For our members

As always, we are keen to hear from you – we want to know what more we can do for you, how we can better support you in your own work and we are always looking for ways to provide added value. That desire for feedback is genuine and runs throughout the Society.

Sitting alongside this is our ongoing work on our constitution. With Council having agreed to bring forward a new constitution to members in May of next year, we will remain focused on completing this essential piece of work, which was always intended to improve the way Society worked, making it more flexible and more effective in serving its members. We still believe this reform is critical to the success of the organisation and we are looking forward to engaging more on this over the coming months.

I hope this has served to give you a flavour of the work that your Society will be undertaking on your behalf over the coming year. I say a flavour because it really is just an overview of the substantial programme of activity that will be undertaken by your Society over the next 12 months – whether by the executive team, the Council or by the many many people who serve on our various committees, all of whom make a tremendous contribution.

This corporate plan will shape our activity and is a plan on which we will review and report our progress – monthly to the board, to the Council – and to you, our members via our annual report given at the AGM in Perth next spring.

More importantly, I hope this gives you confidence that your Society has a clear plan of activity – and confidence that we are focused and relevant, providing real value to you as a member.

Our new strategic aim is to lead and support a successful, respected, Scottish solicitor profession. With this corporate plan, I believe we have a clear path as we start on the journey in meeting that new aim.

Thank you.

The Author
Lorna Jack is Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland
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