In the busy month of May, as soon as the Society’s annual conference ends our immediate focus switches to the annual general meeting, a shift reflected in the conversations I am having with members of the profession. The feedback from the "Law in Scotland" conference has been incredibly positive, with praise for speakers and sessions alike. It was certainly one of the highlights of my first four months.
Midway between the conference and the AGM, my messages and phone calls are increasingly likely to concern the latter. Needless to say, considerable attention is on the motion proposing a reduction in the practising certificate fee to £400. And who among us could fail to sympathise with a suggestion that involves cost savings at a time of such economic difficulty, when firms across the country are making hard choices on a daily basis? No one I have spoken to. And neither does the Society disagree that practising costs should be reduced – there was a real terms cut in the current fee before I arrived, and this year we intend to make a further reduction.
In striving to deliver this, we have made some difficult decisions – cutting running costs and streamlining our business operations. Progress has been made in other areas too. Most of those solicitors I have spoken to see the changes and already recognise a more customer-focused and businesslike organisation.
But how far and how fast can we can go? I would urge all solicitors to give the question serious consideration. The AGM is the opportunity to discuss and have an input into the issues that affect the profession, including governance reforms, the role of solicitor advocates and the future of education and training. And if anyone needs more information on the work of their representative and regulatory body, they should speak to their Council member, or faculty representative, or get in touch with a member of staff. Or have a debate among themselves.
In doing so, it is worth remembering that for a business to sustain a cut in its resources of more than a third, it would need to fundamentally alter its core role and functions. In the case of the Society, that may be a challenge to the fulfilment of our statutory obligations, and would undoubtedly undermine our determination to be a more responsive and effective representative body.
Solicitors have a choice and I would urge them to exercise their right to vote at the AGM.Lorna Jack is Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland