There was a time when the September special general meeting of the Law Society of Scotland was over in the blink of an eye. With the main purpose of the meeting being to set the practising certificate fee for the following year, and little in the average proposal to arouse more than passing interest among the membership, it was usually enough to adjourn the Council meeting called for the same day, reconvene as the SGM along with any other solicitors who happened to turn up, transact the necessary business, and then resume Council.
That changed of course with the debates, first, over the PC fee level with the move led by David Flint to cut it drastically, followed soon afterwards by the ABS arguments and what they should mean for the Society. Last September's meeting saw the final act in the attempt to commit the Society to a restrictive ABS policy, with the defeat of the "Dailly motion", for a staff-only, 25% maximum, non-solicitor ownership policy.
This year, with Council having decided to postpone until the next AGM any further consideration in general meeting of the proposed new constitution of the Society, we were almost back to the old days. But this is not the old days. Good governance these days demands much more information about the Society's proposals for spending members' money, and good business planning demands a proper strategy regarding what an organisation is aiming to achieve, and a blueprint for the steps by which it might get there. Hence this year's SGM, not for the first time, saw presentations by chief executive Lona Jack, and treasurer David McClements, designed to demonstrate the Society's intentions.
One can applaud the effort, but there were only two or three dozen of the Society's 10,500 or so practising members there to hear it. And you can't really blame the rest, especially if it would have meant travelling time rather greater than the 40 minutes that spanned the meeting, even to be there.
While the presentations should be available shortly on Journal Online, so they can be read by members, it would be better if participation could be more interactive. One recently qualified lawyer who did turn up, prompted a discussion about efforts to secure positions for newly qualifieds who are having difficulty finding work, and experiencing ageist attitudes within the profession, which would have been of interest to more than a few at the same stage in their careers.
The proposed new constitution would allow remote participation in a general meeting by audio or video conference, along with remote electronic voting. Such participation would come within the reach of a far higher number of solicitors – and on this month's evidence would be necessary for the proposed quorum of 50 to be achieved. The Society's desire for increased feedback from the profession on a regular basis might also come closer to being realised. As it is, the content has moved on, but the manner of holding the meeting is still tied to the past, and its effectiveness in expressing the voice of the membership has been lost.