As office life returns to an even keel after the monthly rush to get the magazine to press, attention increasingly turns towards this month's AGM, and to the decision whether to dispense with the Society's present constitution, still largely that adopted on its founding in 1949, and adopt the proposed new version now available for scrutiny via this link.
I am pleased to be able to include in this month's edition the cases for voting Yes and No to the draft, from, respectively, the Society's President Elect, Cameron Ritchie (click here to view), and the secretary of the Scottish Law Agents Society, Michael Sheridan (click here to view). Together they form a good starting point for the debate which I hope will be taken further on our Forum pages between now and the AGM on the 26th.
I am not going to embark in this post on a dissection of the new document, or an examination of the criticisms that have been put forward of particular clauses. Hopefully readers will study them for themselves (and perhaps share their thoughts, on this page or in the Forum).
One point that interests me however is the suggestion that the whole discussion is premature, when we do not yet know what ABSs (alternative business structures) will be permitted under the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010, or whether the Society will be a permitted regulator of them. The prematurity argument was a good deal stronger last year while the bill was still in progress. Now the legislation is in place, ministers are consulting on which regulated professionals should be permitted to own a share in legal practices, and if the Society applies to be a regulator, its governing rules will come under scrutiny to see whether they measure up to modern standards of governance. A structure devised in 1949 is not very likely to meet that test.
What the debate should not be is a disguised rerun of the arguments for and against ABS. The Society needs to be in a position to act in the interests of its members if and when ABSs come about; the question should be, whether the draft is the framework to achieve that.
What I also hope is that the debate can be conducted without the rancour and personal attacks that have unfortunately marred the recent arguments over the issues facing the Society and the profession. I fear we are losing sight of the professional courtesies that used to be observed in argument, when individuals have their integrity called into question. If their conduct does not give rise to such comment in their professional practice – and we are mostly talking about those who are also in professional practice – on what basis is it said that they are acting from improper motives in their work for the profession?
Such personal criticisms will not serve the interests of the profession or the public; quite the contrary.