Often by this stage in January what began as a bright new year is looking a bit frayed at the edges. 2019 shows every sign of repeating that pattern, but for some at least the year will be a good one and we can only express the hope that that will include most Journal readers.
Among this month’s features we have something a little different, the contribution from the Fraser of Allander Institute on Brexit and Scotland’s economy. Without wishing to oversimplify matters, it might be summarised as saying that while there is bound to be disruption, and a negative impact on economic growth, opportunities will undoubtedly exist for those with ambition and the willingness to seize them.
Meanwhile, something even more likely to impact on individual solicitors is the findings of the Profile of the Profession survey, the subject of our lead feature, and the Society’s proposed actions in response. These show some encouraging trends, particularly in the narrowing of the gender pay gap, and in the perception, quite widely shared though admittedly felt more strongly by male than female solicitors, that gender equality has improved “to a great extent” over the last five years.
However, the levels of discrimination, bullying and harassment experienced even in recent times have to be a concern, whether or not they reflect what happens in wider society: are ethics not supposed to be a particular hallmark of our profession? Thus while our Law Society, even as a regulatory and disciplinary body, cannot promise to eradicate such behaviour, it can at least work with others, as it proposes, to bring about the culture change that would ensure it is regarded as unacceptable.
Separately, there is clearly work to be done to reduce expectations that solicitors should work long hours beyond their contractual obligations. What appears to be a growing sense that the right work-life balance is in itself an important goal, or even the most important, is not just a fad of our times but something that for many is essential to good mental health and perhaps their very future in the profession. If 73% of women (and 60% of men) who have been qualified between six and 10 years have considered leaving altogether, and around 70% of those cite poor work-life balance, employers risk a serious drain of talent at a time when succession issues are already a major concern. Not to recognise such warning signs is short-termism writ large.
Time for some positive thinking, both at the macro and micro level, as to what can be achieved with a bit of flexibility and imagination.