Green shoots?

#Connect2Law #Law13 and #LawInScotland

Speaking to hundreds of lawyers at the above two events, and at our recent new partners course, it was noticeable that things were a little more optimistic than previous years. No one is suggesting the downturn is over, or that things will return to what they were in 2006-07, but there were consistent reports of a little more property activity in various areas of Scotland (especially more rural areas), and a definite theme that all banks, but Lloyds in particular (name checked too often for it to be coincidence) were increasing their lending activity.

My stock response became "Well, even a few better months are great for morale". But whilst we don’t think any of the current challenges for the sector have disappeared, it's great to see practitioners looking a little happier, and linked with the theme #LawInScotland chose around optimism and #Connect2Law chose around what the "modern tradition" of our profession has to offer. It's tough, but sometimes talking things up and doing so with energy and enthusiasm is part of the solution to restoring confidence and building growth.

Profile of the profession

The results of our major research project on the demographics of the profession were recently launched, and my thanks to over 3,400 solicitors that took part. One issue of personal interest was the use of technology – email on phones, remote login, and cloud based case management. Was all of this helping those working part time and flexibly to remain more involved and engaged, and helping to contribute at the same time to their achieving better work-life balance? Or was it helping the workaholics work harder, widening the gap, in some respects, between the full time and the growing army (23%) who work part time, and possibly exacerbating some structural issues around gender in the profession and storing issues for the future?

The data is complicated to interpret, and obviously the "trend" will be different to each individual’s actual experience, but from my interpretation it may be the latter at the moment, drawing on figures. For example, men are more likely than women to have remote access and be working on it out of hours. To build on bare statistics (which never tell a full story), we have focus group work planned in, which may help us explore this issue further, looking at both benefits and detriments to firms and individuals. I’ll be fascinated to see how technology is changing work patterns and making predictions for what that might look like in the future.

@lawscot to consider principles based regulation

Our new financial year’s corporate plan started on 1 November, and there are some big items in there. To me one of the most exciting is starting to examine whether we should move to a more "principles based" system of regulation. But what does that mean? Depending on your view it could be described as going back to basics, stripping away red tape and minutiae and allowing professionals to exercise their judgment and deliver better results for clients. It could save the Society time and money, as constant updates are not required and the idea of "waivers" disappears.

Others will have a different review, seeing it as a move to strip away specific guidance which helps members, and delivers a framework too vague to assist and too time consuming to interpret for the average practitioner. Some will feel it allows regulators too wide a discretion to criticise later. I'd literally get on my knees to beg members to engage in this discussion early to influence it from the start. The value of extensive input can be seen in the sep rep debate, but it does tend to come in the four weeks before an AGM rather than in the two years of policy development. We really will want your views, and I’d encourage you to get involved once consultation starts.

My first Twitter #gaffe

After 2,300 tweets I've made my first Twitter error. There was one previous issue our communications director got a bit hysterical about, but truth be told I didn't see the issue. But this time I'm feeling really sheepish. It was simple joke, based on some event promotion saying "her" instead of "him" about a speaker. What I hadn't realised was that the other organisation had no sense of humour, and a staff member actually got in trouble. It was within the spirit of Twitter, and meant helpfully to give a free plug to their event using the mildest of jokes to make it stand out from the stream of poor PR from thousands of businesses. But you can't always predict your audience.

Have I finally learned social media has risks, even if you aren't a hysterical ranter or late night drink fuelled tweeter ("dweeter")? Well not really. I do feel bad, but both tweets (mine and theirs) were deleted in five minutes. When we used to mailshot flyers for events it would be there for ever (I remember some of my past typos being pinned to a former boss’s notice board with red circles for years). And these are organisations I work with daily. I could have easily breezed in a meeting and made the same joke, and had the same impact (and felt the same regret). I did re-read our guide to members on social media use, but still think the best rule is to act as if you would in the "real world", and you can’t go too far wrong.

Neil Stevenson is a Director of the Law Society of Scotland and regularly tweets (@StevensonLaw) with his personal views on issues in the legal sector.