Welcome to my last column of 2019. It has been quite a year, which as you know, included our 70th anniversary. The year is going out with a bang rather than a whimper. By the time you read this, we will know the outcome of the general election. We may have a new UK Government or we may not. We may have some clearer idea about the UK’s exit from the EU. We may not.
We can only look forward with a renewed sense of optimism that 2020 will be a year when a little stability and trust in our democratic institutions can be restored.
There has been no let-up in the diary commitments towards the end of the year, and among many recent events, the Vice President and I were invited to three ministerial round tables on gender equality, sexual orientation, LGBT+ inclusion, ethnicity and widening access to the profession. We were delighted to attend because these are, of course, important subjects. However, although there is plenty more work to be done, we have consistently led on these issues and continue to do so. I am sure the minister and those attending were impressed by the many initiatives the Society has taken forward.
We have known for some time that gender equality includes multiple connected themes. It is about shattering the glass ceiling. It is about ending the idea that flexible working is only for some people. It is about the simple idea that all in the legal profession – regardless of background, sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation – can thrive, have successful careers and live the life they want to live.
We have published the profession’s gender pay gap (twice and seen it halve), and chose to lead by publishing our own pay gap. We have committed considerable time and resource to ensuring gender equality is focused on by leaders in the profession, including a year-long “Conversation on Progression” and hosting a series of gender equality round tables.
Our Profile of the Profession is the go-to evidence base at this stage in terms of BAME progression and pay. We also built in some socio-economic metrics. We chose to undertake and publish this work and set plans around it. The Street Law programme in schools is funded entirely by the Society. We have a bank of volunteers who go out to represent the legal profession at school careers events (they attended 40 last year). At legal studies and careers days we see about 150 students across Scotland interested in a career in the law for an all-day event.
Since our 2014 report on Fair Access to the Legal Profession we have put significant resource and focus on the issue of fair access. The single biggest issue in relation to fair access to the profession is the attainment gap at school, which leads to far fewer individuals from the poorest 20% households enter university at all, but particularly to high-tariff subjects.
On the issue of fairness of recruitment we are running a pilot of a software product called Rare. This helps contextualise application data for internships and traineeships. This will help people from challenging backgrounds, and given intersection between BAME and disadvantage it will also help BAME recruitment. We run a mentoring scheme for all members (and students), and going forward we to intend to focus this on underrepresented groups.
The final round table was lucky to hear from some of the students supported by the Lawscot Foundation. It is clear that the Foundation is well on the way to having its first LLB graduate. We are determined that there will be many more. Now is an ideal time for you to help the Foundation by showcasing your musical talents in the Society’s first ever Battle of the Bands.
I know there is an enormous pool of musical talent in our profession, so please get together and enter your band. Thanks to our generous sponsors, the entire proceeds from ticket sales will go directly to the Foundation. Even if you don’t fancy being in a band, please buy a ticket and come along. It’s sure to be a fantastic evening. You will find more on p 38, and full details of this inaugural event on the Society’s website.
Just before I sign off for 2019, I would like to thank you for all your support during the first six months of my presidency. It is obvious that despite our diverse interests we retain a collegiate, professional spirit. On behalf of the Society, I hope you get the chance to have a long and enjoyable break over Christmas and that you have a happy and peaceful New Year.