Despite the challenges and criticisms, my year as President has been an overwhelmingly positive involvement with a profession that remains in good heart, and I thank everyone

Well, what a quick year that has been – for me at least. Some of you may have been wondering when I would ever be got rid of. Either way, it’s now.

Wherever I go as President, I meet solicitors who ruefully reflect on it having been a hard year for me. No it hasn’t. Mainly they are talking about the legal aid contributions/collections events of December and January, and yes, this was a challenging time. 

There was drama, as I and the chief executive joined a large number of solicitors demonstrating for justice in front of the Parliament. There was criticism, when I supported the legal aid negotiating team as they managed to wrest concessions out of an apparently implacable Government, but got short shrift from a vocal section of the legal aid practitioner community. But there was then learning and there is now development as I have supervised a process to find a new and more effective way of representing all legal aid solicitors. That work remains in progress, but it started from my initial paper that took a sober and objective look at what was wrong and what might be done to right it.

But apart from that, all the events and meetings and functions and people I have encountered have been positive. Whether it has been conferences abroad (and of them the most moving and life-changing has been the Commonwealth Law Conference in Cape Town – see my daily diaries,, blogs section), or meetings with lawyers or other stakeholders in Edinburgh, Wick, Stranraer and dozens of other locations, I have been reassured that this profession is fundamentally in good heart. 

There are challenges – economic downturn, trainee entry to the profession, ABS delays, threats from south of the border – and no room for complacency, but we as solicitors remain at the heart of society and business, and if anything we strengthen that position as we adapt and innovate into the future.

Being President is on one level acting as a witness to what is happening within the solicitor profession, and also to see how it is perceived from outside. In my journey I have met respect and admiration, tempered sometimes by criticism, occasionally robustly expressed. I have reported and responded as necessary, and I like to think that my journalistic training has helped somewhat in keeping both the wider profession and my Drumsheugh colleagues fully briefed on what I have seen and heard. I hope the general public have got the message too, and that the image of solicitors has been enhanced.

The work goes on even though the team captain changes. Some say a year is not long enough to make a difference. I understand that argument, but think it is only a small part of the overall understanding of the presidency. A huge amount of the work is in continuity, in stability, in keeping a flame burning. You do get the chance to create, and if an idea is a good one, it will have plenty of adherents to help develop it, no matter that the originator has moved on. In any event I am not moving far – I will still be on Council and available to pitch in as the new President requires.

Before ending, I would like to thank some people. First, I am so grateful to the executive and staff at Drumsheugh Gardens. Knocking the Society has been a pastime of solicitors for many generations (my late father was adept at this 50 years ago!), but the reality is that we are indebted mightily to the employees of the Society for their expertise, commitment and loyalty. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with all of them. 

Secondly, I thank my fellow Council members. Not only have they been a collegiate and amicable group when I was simply one of them, but as an office bearer I have been shown friendship, honesty and support – never uncritical, but all input has been intended constructively, and often enough I have needed the wisdom of colleagues in the vast array of decisions and issues that have faced me. 

And finally, as we say in my other world, to you my fellow solicitors I owe a very large vote of thanks. In the best traditions of the profession, I have been found innocent until proof of guilt – pretty well everyone I have encountered within the membership has given me the benefit of the doubt, and accepted at very least that I have always acted in what I perceive to be the best interests of the profession and the public.

I have loved doing this job, and I hand back the reins having learned, grown, and benefited enormously from it. I wish the best of luck to Bruce, and am confident that he will be a credit to himself, the Society and the profession.

The Author
Austin Lafferty is President of the Law Society of Scotland
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