So... here I am, President of your Law Society of Scotland, a profession of over 12,000 members with a responsibility to promote, protect and advance the legal interests of all aspects of society at a time of challenge for all and crisis for many... no pressure!
This is the next opportunity of my life and I am undaunted in my desire to face the many challenges with openness, compassion, and consideration. The Society will, under my watch, work with the profession and stakeholders to ensure the profession remains viable and continues to make a fundamental contribution to civil society. That includes protecting fundamental rights, ensuring our profession reflects the society it serves in its diversity, promoting wellbeing and standing up for and to challenge.
I and my colleagues are not complacent about the level of these challenges, particularly when it seems other priorities have taken over life, but a viable, valuable, committed legal profession must and will survive to ensure the values of our civil society do likewise.
At the start of the lockdown all areas of legal business were affected: courts closed; Registers of Scotland closed; businesses closed; emergency legislation produced. The Society through its staff and volunteers engaged with others including SCTS, Registers, SLAB, Westminster and Scottish Governments, and through sharing of expertise and compassionate challenge, we made and will continue to make positive progress.
This month has seen the start of the financial package delivering savings of £2.2 million, by offering members a delay in paying the SLCC levy. It is frustrating that the SLCC has maintained what appears to be a unique position in the crisis, making NO change to its budget produced in January and evidencing NO consideration to the challenges facing everyone at the moment. John Mulholland, my excellent predecessor, described it in April as “tone-deaf”, and its hearing has not improved.
Support across the board
Of course all our work is influenced, and much of it driven, by the impact of COVID-19, but the Society’s other work has not been forgotten, nor is it being allowed to stagnate. My start as President is also the end of an era, as the Society’s longstanding executive director of Regulation, Phil Yelland, retired at the end of May. Phil’s wealth of experience and support will be much missed, but I look forward to working with Rachel Wood, who brings her own insight and experiences to the role as we move forward.
In Mental Health Awareness week, I launched the Society’s series of events offering training and ideas for individuals and businesses on how to support positive mental wellbeing. This is always important, but is particularly pertinent now as we manage through increased working from homes, personal and financial stress. Investing time and energy now to promote positive mental health will also help deliver future sustainability – we are in this for the long haul.
See p 41 of this issue for the results of our 2019 survey on the status of mental health stigma and discrimination in the legal profession, and the launch of a seven-step action plan to drive cultural change.
Friday 29 May, as well as being the day I received the President’s chain of office (although I left John with the responsibility until 1 June!) was also the 50th anniversary of the passing of the landmark Equal Pay Act. In the same week, we published the results of gender round tables carried out last year, an important initiative led by Past President Alison Atack. I commend to you her blog about the importance of this work (under “Blogs & opinions” in the news and events section of the Society’s website).
As well as being the start of my time as President, June is Pride month which in recent years has launched a summer of celebrations of everything LGBTQ+. This year will be very different, but our LGBTQ+ community is not forgotten, notwithstanding the challenges of lockdown. There is particular symmetry in this timing as, if you didn’t know already, I am the first person known to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community to become President in the Society’s 71-year history. I look forward to seeing and contributing to its #PrideInside work.
Some may say there is a lot here about work on inclusion and we are losing our focus on a core message to defend and promote the profession. To those I say, our profession has a responsibility to society and if it does not support its members’ ability to bring all their skill, intellect and diverse experience then we cannot fully meet that responsibility.
Our profession with its responsibilities to individuals, business, government, justice delivery, society and its members are all in this together and I, my Vice President Ken Dalling, Past President John Mulholland and all the team at the Society led by the capable and persistently positive CEO Lorna Jack, look forward to working with you to lead the way in delivering legal excellence.