In some ways the timing could not have been better for a return to Scotland from the United States: 2009 is the year of Homecoming Scotland – a series of events celebrating Scotland and encouraging those with Scottish roots to revisit their homeland – as well as the Society’s 60th anniversary. It is also a time of considerable change for the legal profession, in particular with the Scottish Government’s consultation paper on Scotland’s legal services market, "Wider choice and better protection", launched this week.
Yet it was with some apprehension that I planned my first commute from Stirling to the office, dimly recalling the hazards of train travel before I left Scotland six years ago. Prepared for an infrequent, overcrowded service, I was therefore pleasantly surprised to discover a choice of at least three trains an hour, with the journey taking just over half an hour.
In preparing for my new job with the Society, my thoughts were focused firmly on the impact of the economic downturn on solicitors, their firms and clients. Reading the day’s news on the train to Edinburgh – comfortable and running to time – therefore provided some further, albeit limited, encouragement: Scottish house prices had fallen less than any other part of the UK over the past 12 months. Later in the week, the news was even better: in the last quarter of 2008, the Scottish property market bucked the UK trend, actually showing a small rise in average prices.
That said, news elsewhere was not so good. Another announcement of planned redundancies in our sector, this time in Thorntons in Dundee.
All in all, the Scotland I have returned to is neither the one I left behind nor the one I expected to find. But, while well aware of the challenges that lie ahead, I remain optimistic about the resilience of the Scottish legal profession to get through this difficult time to prosper and grow in the coming years, not least with the introduction of legislation to allow alternative business structures.
Certainly, our reputation is held in the highest regard in other jurisdictions, as I am well aware from first hand experience. I will do all I can to help harness that as we move forward and seize the opportunities for positive change.Lorna Jack is Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland