Solicitors are great! There, I’ve said it and, without any sense of hubris, I am sure that I will be saying it many times to many people over the next 12 months.
We are, each of us, facilitators and problem solvers whose assistance is essential to the running of every aspect of civil society. We bring expertise and support to all, from the captains of industry to the destitute, not just to make their lives easier but to make their lives work. Be it the purchase of a property or a business, inheritance planning, civil or criminal litigation or, indeed, any other of the myriad circumstances in which our help is needed, there will be a Scottish solicitor delivering for their clients somewhere – on the phone from their office or home, in person in their office, their client’s home or in a police station, prison or court – every minute of every hour of every day of the year. As is well said by the motto of the Society, Humani nihil alienum, there is no aspect of the human condition that is alien to a Scottish solicitor.
We live in an uncertain world, which is constantly changing. With uncertainty comes worry and, probably for most of us, the worries of COVID and the disruption of lockdown have been horrible – whether that was because we couldn’t work or because we were the only ones doing so. In particular the closure of the courts and of Registers of Scotland was not something that Past President John Mulholland would have seen coming when it hit three months before the end of his tenure. Despite his excellent work during that time there remained a lot for Amanda Millar to do. Be under no illusion, both she and John have worked tirelessly, supported by Lorna Jack and the Society’s staff, Council and committee volunteers. Our aim has been to ensure that the voice of the profession, as well as due consideration for the interest of its clients, has been at the centre of all that has been needed to cope with the disruption and to see a way out of it. (I had rather hoped that Amanda would have fixed it all before it was my turn, but it seems that even her considerable talents have limitations!)
Leading towards the light
Just maybe there is light at the end of the COVID tunnel. Scotland has a newly elected Government and Parliament, which will hope to lead us there. Newly elected, or re-elected, politicians seem always to have new priorities but I trust that certain core principles will remain unchanged.
Whatever may be the driver for change (or “modernising” as is the term often used to justify change), the need to preserve access to justice and, with it, the integrity of our system of justice is paramount. There have been many changes already made to our practices in the civil and criminal processes. Many of these have been an improvement for all users; they have brought savings in time and trouble. There will, I hope, be many more. None of them, however, should be at a cost to the solicitor or their client.
And on the subject of cost, what about legal aid? If I am right about the worth of the solicitor, how come publicly funded advice and representation has been so undervalued for a generation? Why have successive administrations done so little to ensure that solicitors are reasonably remunerated for their work, and that to the extent that the reality of legal aid deserts is upon us? Others will have to answer that – and I would encourage the questions be asked.
What I say is that the evidence of underfunding is obvious and something more must be done, and done quickly. The increases provided for recently by the former Cabinet Secretary Humza Yousaf are only a start. I look forward to working with his successor Keith Brown to ensure that improvements happen. Meantime, as I write this, the Society is constructively engaged with civil servants to ensure full distribution of the allocated resilience fund monies, as well as promised trainee support. I will be happy if, by the time you read this, that is old news!
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