It’s amazing how often some big legal news breaks just when I’ve gone on holiday. Last month it was the pending retirement of the Society’s chief executive Lorna Jack.

It would be difficult to overstate the extent of the changes that have taken place at the Society during her tenure, which dates back to January 2009. 

I looked back for interest at my first interview with Lorna Jack (Journal, February 2009, 14), soon after she arrived as the first non-solicitor to head the Society. One phrase I recorded was “improving our governance arrangements constantly – an organisation should do that naturally”, and I wrote of my impression that she “looks set to accelerate the progress of the Society as a more dynamic, outward looking body”. That has been borne out constantly over the 12½ years since.

Progress was in hand before she arrived, but fresh impetus there certainly has been, driven by the five year strategic plans carrying a vision of a world class professional body, with annual business plans to take these forward containing specific goals tracked at every Council meeting. The transformation has included the Society moving from the confines of Drumsheugh Gardens to the bright environs of Atria One, and establishing itself as a leader in equality and diversity.

Of course there have been trials along the way. The schism in the profession over alternative business structures was deep, and wounding, yet no one can judge the outcome: it is ironic that the Government that started the whole process has to date found itself unable to finish it, though the Society has done everything it could to prepare. The debate about the Society’s own future status is far from over. And COVID-19 tested its leadership (and just about everyone else) to the limit, but has been another challenge met.

Another positive has been the Society’s steady building of its public image where it matters. The quality of its parliamentary briefings – sometimes provided under the tightest of timetables – has come to be accepted almost without question by MSPs, and perhaps also MPs; and careful judgment as to when to build bridges with Government and when to take a stand, gave it a strong hand for example in the vital legal aid negotiations at the turn of the year – with Lorna herself involved at the climax.

In pretty much everything it does, the Society works as a team. That should not change just because of a change in the person at the top. But that person has a key role in setting the direction, and the ethos, of the organisation; and for its positive, dynamic vibe of today, the Society has much to thank Lorna Jack for.