Twice in two days I have sat at the top table among a gathering of my fellow solicitors – yesterday as Vice President of the Society at our annual general meeting; today before Council members on my first day as President. As might be expected from a roomful of lawyers, both occasions involved lively debate.
The AGM attracted particular attention, largely due to a motion proposing the practising certificate should be reduced to £400. Needless to say, such a suggestion posed a serious threat to the continuing viability of the Society in its current form. Thankfully, it was convincingly rejected – both by delegates present and when the proxy votes were counted – in favour of a Society amendment seeking a “material reduction” in the PC fee. It was particularly reassuring that the votes in favour of the Society’s position came from the length and breadth of the profession, and the country, rather than simply relying on the support of the big firms, as had been suggested may be the case.
But, while the Society comprehensively won the debate as well as the vote, the issues raised by the PC motion must be taken seriously. Our regulatory role – and its value to the public – is generally well understood, even if its worth to the solicitor brand is not always fully appreciated. Our representative role less so. And in that sense, the motion on the PC fee contained a kernel of truth. The work we do on behalf of our membership must be refined and more clearly articulated. For that reason, one of the key objectives of my presidency is to “sell” the value added element of what the Society does – particularly the non-statutory functions – to solicitors. In doing so, I hope we can retain – and where necessary, regain – the respect and trust of our members and the public in Scotland.
The Society is in the midst of a process of change, as was again debated at today’s meeting of the Council. That process should now be allowed to run its course. In 12 months, when I reflect on my term as President, my aim is that the Society will be recognisably more modern, effective, efficient and responsive. I welcome feedback from all concerned along the way.
Finally, the Society was immensely fortunate 21 months ago that Richard Henderson was in a position to take up the presidency of the Society. As vice president, I have been equally fortunate to benefit from his wise counsel. It is now my responsibility to build on his significant achievements.Ian Smart is President of the Law Society of Scotland