A new strategy, new premises and the prospect of new legislation for the profession all featured in the presentations to members at the Society’s annual general meeting

New legislation on legal services and the legal profession could come before the Scottish Parliament in 2016-17, the Society’s chief executive, Lorna Jack, told this year's AGM.

Delivering her annual presentation on the Society’s work, Jack disclosed that ministers had indicated there might be a window in the legislative timetable. “We intend to grab this opportunity with both hands,” she said, to deal with problems and issues arising from the present Acts and achieve a more effective and modern legislative framework.

Moving on, the chief executive said that since the “Towards 2020” goals were published in 2011, developments such as the new types of legal technician, outsourcing of legal work, and innovative business models meant that the Society’s strategy “needs to change up a gear, to be a strategy that will drive our performance over the next five years... Put simply, we need to be bolder, more ambitious and more effective.” To enable this, a new strategy developed by the board and Council will be published this summer. 

The big move

“And to deliver that strategy, we need a physical space in which we can work more effectively,” Jack continued. She revealed that the Society has secured “an excellent deal” for the sale of its Drumsheugh Gardens offices to a developer, and signed a 15-year lease on new premises at Atria One on Morrison Street, next to the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. The move will complete by the end of 2015.

It was prompted by the need for more effective internal working, with better meeting space and technology, to support a larger and more diverse profession. Drumsheugh Gardens was “increasingly unfit for purpose and expensive to maintain”, and “planning restrictions and the cost of work severely restricted our options”.

“We also considered out-of-town locations, viewing over 40 different offices. We took into account the fact that our staff, Council and committee members regularly attend meetings and evidence sessions in the Scottish Parliament and with other justice, legal and business stakeholders, and we certainly didn’t want to increase costs or waste time, particularly of our volunteers, through additional travel. Taking all of these things into consideration, we concluded that a central Edinburgh location offers us the best overall deal.”

On the financial aspects Jack added: “Thanks to the very favourable terms which we’ve negotiated for the new premises, along with savings in our operating budget, we can complete this office move without the need for any increase in the practising certificate fee [which the meeting later agreed to freeze for a sixth year].

“There are a number of options available to us in terms of the money raised from the sale of our current premises. We think the right thing to do is to invest that money in order to provide an income stream over future years. This would ensure that existing members and future solicitors all benefit in some way.”

Jack also told the meeting that of the 40 projects in the operational plan for the current year, only two (reform of general meetings, and the licensed provider regulatory scheme) were not on track to deliver. The review of the Guarantee Fund is now complete, and consultation on options for change (along with entity regulation) will take place over the summer; following publication of the major policy paper on improving legal aid, the challenge now is to convince the Scottish Government and Scottish Legal Aid Board of its merits; and the Society has embarked on “some ambitious commercial work through new partnerships and sponsorship packages”, to grow income and keep down fees and charges to members.  

Still united

In his address, the President, Alistair Morris, reflected on the changes in the profession in the 23 years since he first joined Council – in its work as much as in its composition.

At his very first Council meeting, the then President had warned that the profession was being challenged on a number of different fronts and that “the unity of the profession would continue to be tested”. But he and his successors had succeeded in preserving “one profession with the proud and distinct badge of Scottish solicitor that unites all of us”, and Morris, through his own time as President, had sought to maintain that one profession approach, “ensuring we protect that which allows us to succeed and stand out from an increasingly competitive and crowded legal market”.

Morris believed that what had helped the solicitor profession to succeed was its willingness and ability to adapt in every changing market, and the Society equally needed to continue on its own journey of change. “I can tell you that the new strategy will set seriously ambitious and challenging goals,” he continued. “It will require new thinking, innovation, yes some risk taking, but at the very heart will be the continuing determination to ensure Scottish solicitor remains the premier qualification in the legal sector.”

Concluding, he expressed his confidence that Christine McLintock would be “quite simply, an outstanding President”, and the Society was fortunate that someone with her background and experience had put themselves forward.  

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