We preview the Society’s 2021 Annual Conference, which is taking advantage of its online format by offering events spread over a week, with the option to choose which days to book for
President Amanda Millar sets the scene:

This year’s Law Society of Scotland annual conference will be, like so many other developments in the last year, unique. First, it will be held entirely online. Members and colleagues will be able to choose from a whole week’s worth of keynote speeches, panel discussions and participative breakout sessions. Secondly, it will take place against the backdrop of the pandemic, which has caused such disruption to our professional and personal lives.

My term as President will conclude at the end of May, and it is no exaggeration to say it has also been unique, for many reasons.

I am hugely encouraged at the way members and firms have set about managing the huge changes thrust upon them. It is testament to the quality of the legal profession in Scotland that many of the greatest fears we had in March 2020 have not come to pass. The resilience and efficiency shown have been truly inspiring. There are still many challenges, but as we move (we hope) towards the exit from this pandemic, there have been some fantastic developments that will help ensure the profession is well equipped to thrive in the years ahead.

Amongst these, there is far greater understanding and cognisance around our own and others’ wellbeing. No one has been immune from wellbeing challenges, and perhaps counterintuitively while we have been separated from colleagues, friends and family, I am confident many colleagues feel closer to each other than before. A big part of that is down to the need we have all had at times to help each other through tough days.

Wellbeing, diversity and inclusion are themes close to my heart, and will be the first of many sessions at the conference. We will run more than 30 different sessions on a wide range of topics, legal and non-legal. Each day will have a different theme. I encourage members to book a place; be assured that if you can’t attend when the day comes, all the sessions will be available online to anyone who purchased a ticket, to watch and enjoy at your convenience. What’s more, you can purchase a ticket for the entire week, or for a single day if you prefer.

At time of writing we have a host of leading thinkers and speakers confirmed, with more names added weekly. It truly will be a smorgasbord of learning and engagement opportunities that is unique (that word again!) in the legal calendar. This year, of all years, we hope to see a large and diverse group of colleagues attend to take part in an active group of peers learning from each other and sharing their insights, thoughts and hard-won experiences for the betterment of the profession across Scotland – be it in-house colleagues, sole practitioners, big firm partners or all points in between. There will be something for everyone. I look forward to seeing you there.

The conference, day by day

Monday 26 April: Diversity and inclusion; wellbeing

As Amanda Millar has noted, the first day focuses on diversity, inclusion and wellbeing – all matters on which the constraints of working under lockdown have had a major impact, in different ways.

After her presidential welcome, she joins a panel session embracing these issues, also featuring Yvonne Brady of Shepherd & Wedderburn, Musab Hemsi of LexLeyton, and Naeema Yaqoob Sajid, solicitor and founder of Diversity+.

A choice of workshops before and after lunch will then explore particular issues in depth.

Timings: 10.30-12.15; 2-2.45


Tuesday 27 April: The economy

Tuesday’s session gets down to business, opening with a panel discussion on the economy featuring, among others, Tracy Black, the CBI’s director for Scotland. What is the best way to reboot the economy following COVID-19? Can we learn from the 2009 or earlier recessions? Is this our best chance to positively disrupt and reshape the economy? How should law firms position and ready themselves for the “new economic reality”? Look out for some insights.

Again there is a choice of workshops. Before lunch, it’s a three practitioner panel on best practice for high street firms, or consultant Scott Foster leading on essential financial questions. Afterwards, the intriguingly titled “Lawyers, COVID, and Lewis Hamilton” (it’s billed as how to stay competitive in the race) competes with cultivating a business development mindset.

Timings: 10.30-12.15; 2-2.45


Wednesday 28 April: EU withdrawal and international law

Big name speakers feature on the Wednesday programme, which examines the impact of EU withdrawal but also brings you the first workshops on particular practice areas.

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC is first to the podium. His opening address is followed by a panel discussion where he will be joined by two leading Scottish public lawyers, solicitor advocate Christine O’Neill QC of Brodies; and Elaine Motion of Balfour+Manson. With the Society’s Michael Clancy in the chair, they will review experience to date with the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and what that foretells for Scottish lawyers and their clients looking ahead.

Workshops then offer a choice between Gillian McCluskey of MacRoberts, on the international agreements currently supporting business, and (it is hoped) a commercial law session.

After lunch, the post-Brexit theme continues for family lawyers, when Rachael Kelsey and John West of SKO discuss cross-border cases with Janys Scott QC. Meanwhile for criminal lawyers Krista Johnston (Martin Johnston & Socha) and Laura Irvine (Davidson Chalmers Stewart) face up to the impact of technology on criminal advocacy.

Timings: 10-12.15; 2-2.45


Thursday 29 April: Scots law – developments and court work

Thursday follows a different format, with morning workshops, a lunchtime film (Warriors, with maker Stephen Bennett) and a plenary afternoon session on criminal law.

First up, Keeper of the Registers Jennifer Henderson joins two property lawyers to talk e-conveyancing and the next steps for the property market; Jodie Blackstock of JUSTICE leads the alternative session.

The next pairing is “How to market yourself in the digital age”, with Simon Allison and Jack Boyle of Blackadders offering practical tips for your online presence, alongside “Judging: could it be your future?”, with career coach Manjula Bray aiming to improve your chances when applying for judicial office. 

Trauma awareness in criminal justice is a cause dear to the heart of Iain Smith, “Scottish Lawyer of the Year 2020”, and he headlines the afternoon session, in interview and then in a panel discussion also featuring Sheriff David Mackie and others working on offenders and offender-related projects, in Scotland and elsewhere. This is a session not to be missed by anyone wanting to help others break their cycles of offending.

Timings: 10.15-12.30; (film); 2.45-4.20


Friday 30 April: Keynotes

Friday sees conference week come to a grand finale, with no fewer than four keynote addresses, alongside forward-looking sessions on IT and new ways of working.

Assuming they go ahead as scheduled, the day falls less than a week before the Scottish Parliament elections. The first headline speaker will be election guru Sir John Curtice, casting his seaweed over where public opinion might be headed – including the Westminster scene and the prospects for that perennial political football, the second independence referendum.

Also confirmed, as we go to press, are Lord Hodge, Deputy President of the UK Supreme Court; and Deborah Kayembe, human rights lawyer and new rector of Edinburgh University.

A session titled “Scottish lawyers’ stories” should offer further interesting perspectives, the lawyers being Stephen Cullen, principal with Miles & Stockbridge, Washington DC, and Jeff Langlands, general counsel with BT Global and a director of EE Ltd.

The conference having to go virtual is not preventing the Society offering both a networking session and wellness classes during the lunch break. And the day’s workshops offer several more attractions: a COP26 themed panel session entitled “Law, sustainability and technology”; “Adapting to new ways of working”, hosted by Master Policy brokers Lockton; “Key issues in Scots law of cohabitation”; a partners’ panel; and an in-house panel. 

To round it all off, the closing keynote, “Will it make the boat go faster?”, with Harriet Beveridge, executive coach, broadcaster and comic, should bring the event to an entertaining close.

Timings: 10-12.45; 2-4

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