Delivered at the President’s Annual Dinner in Edinburgh, by Alison Atack, President of the Law Society of Scotland.
Good evening Sheriff Principle, Lord Justice General, Lord Advocate, Advocate General for Scotland, Lord Justice Clerk, Solicitor General, Cabinet Secretary, Ministers, and on International Women’s Day, My Ladies, My Lords, colleagues, family and friends. It is my great pleasure to welcome all of you on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland to our Annual Dinner here in this stunning venue which was designed by John Henderson in 1781.
2019 is the Law Society of Scotland’s 70th year. It is an opportunity to showcase the fantastic work of the Scottish legal profession, reflect on how the law and practice has progressed as well as looking to the future.
On International Women’s day, I am delighted that we have a table of guests who are all women who have achieved something amazing. We have in alphabetical order:
Dame Eilish Angioliini was the Lord Advocate from 2006 until 2011, having previously been Solicitor General since 2001. She was the first woman, the first Procurator Fiscal and the first solicitor to hold either post. A moderniser, she took on particular responsibility helping most vulnerable victims achieve greater confidence in the prosecution service. She is the principal of St Hugh’s College Oxford.
Ash Denham is an MSP for the constituency of Edinburgh Eastern since 2016. She was appointed Minister for Community Safety on 27 Jun 2018.
Caroline Docherty OBE First female Deputy Keeper of the Signet who has given her own time to provide outstanding leadership, introducing a forward looking vision for the Society and backed change – probably the most radical being the opening of the Library to the public as a 1st class restaurant – and anyone who has had a taste of the excellent champagne afternoon tea there will be forever grateful
Lady Dorrian - she was the first woman to be appointed as Lord Justice Clerk in 2016, having had an extraordinary legal career. This position as Lord Justice Clerk makes her the most senior female judge in Scottish history. Lady Dorrian has been an advocate since 1981 and a judge since 2002. In 2005 she became a full-time Senator of the College of Justice.
Lady Hale was appointed as President of the Supreme Court. She is the third person and first woman to serve the role. She is also the Honarary President of Cambridge University Law Society and most importantly of all has recently appeared as a cover girl in Vogue magazine! A remarkable lady whose motto is Women are equal to everything.
Nicola Irvine was elected by her peers as Dean of the Royal Faculty of Procurators In Glasgow in 2017, the first woman in the Faculty’s 400 year history. A partner in Russels Gibson McCaffrey she specialises in civil litigation and is a most worthy and able Dean who has represented the profession at the highest level.
Our very own Lorna Jack, first female Chief Executive at LSS she arrived in January 2009 and since then has delivered an amazing programme of modernisation making improvements in governance, transparency and outreach to members and stakeholders.
Lady Paton, who was recently appointed Chair of the Scottish Law Commission. She is currently Scotland's longest-serving female judge and was the second woman ever appointed as a Senator of the College of Justice.
Judge Anne Scott was appointed as the inaugural Tax Chamber President of the First Tier Tribunal for Scotland in 2017 when the jurisdiction of devolved taxes transferred from the Tax Tribunals for Scotland to the newly created Scottish Tribunals. Anne has been a Judge in the UK First-tier Tribunal Tax Chamber since its inception and a legal member of the Mental Health Tribunal Scotland since its inception.
Judge Shona Simon was appointed President of Employment Tribunals (Scotland) in 2009. As an accredited specialist in Employment law before becoming a Judge in 2002 her expertise was discrimination law. As President Shona sits on the Tribunal Judges’ Executive Board and on a number of sub-committees of the Judges Council (E & W) and is a member of the advisory board of the Judicial Institute for Scotland and its Equality & Diversity group.
Ladies, I am delighted you could join us tonight. Congratulations on your achievements!
I would like to extend a special thank you to all our guests who help, support and assist the Law Society in countless ways in our goal to lead the profession, to serve the public, to champion access to justice and to uphold the rule of law.
As I mentioned, 2019 is the Law Society’s platinum anniversary year.
I was delighted when our longest serving member, who became a solicitor 70 years ago in 1949 popped into the Law Society’s office recently to share a wee glass or two of fizz with me to toast our platinum year.
Anne Meikle had an interesting and varied career, initially studying and working in Dundee, admitted on 10 June 1949 and latterly in Local Authority in Edinburgh. She still today is on the roll of Scottish solicitors at the age of 90-something. She is truly a remarkable woman and a trailblazer and great role model, a woman, a mother and an inveterate professional.
Had Mrs Meikle wanted to join the legal profession 100 years ago, she wouldn’t have been allowed to. It is hard to image isn’t it! Yet 2019 is an extra special year for the legal profession because it is 100 years since a change in the law permitted women to become practising lawyers for the first time. The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act in 1919 paved the way for women to build a career as a solicitor. And to mark the First 100 Years, the Law Society took part in a UK-wide photography project today which saw around 100 women working in law come to our office to have their photo taken. I know that some of you here today took part in that, thank you!
Back in 1901 things were very different, 18 year old Margaret Hall dreamed of being a solicitor or ‘law agent’ as they were known. She wanted to take the examinations of the Incorporated Society of Law Agents and be admitted to the legal profession in Scotland. The Court of Session refused Margaret Hall’s petition and ruled that she could not take the exams. The relevant Act stated ‘persons’ were permitted to take the exams, but women it appeared were not ‘persons’ in the eyes of the law!
Fast forward to 1920 and Madge Easton Anderson was the first female law graduate from the University of Glasgow, the first women admitted to practice as a solicitor in Scotland, the first female UK lawyer, the first partner in a UK law firm run only by women. She studied law before the 1919 Act and had to argue her case for admission at the Court of Session.
Born in 1896 in Pollokshields Glasgow and educated at Hutchesons Grammar School in Glasgow. She was an apprentice to Maclay Murray & Spens, a well-known Glasgow firm which was in business still until a couple of years ago.
By the time the Law Society of Scotland was created in 1949, things were a little better for women who wanted to join the profession. There were just over 3,000 solicitor members and just 3% were female.
In 1988 there were just over 8,000 Scottish solicitors and a quarter of them were female.
Today we have almost 12,000 Scottish solicitors working across the world and just over half are female.
Caroline Flanagan became our first female President in 2005.
Christine McLintock became our second female president in 2015, followed by Eilidh Wiseman in 2016.
I am the fourth female President and in 2020 we will have our fifth female President – Amanda Millar.
I do remember when I first became a solicitor amazingly. Times were very very different. No emails, social media or websites. No work in progress time sheets or AI. Communication was done by letter or telephone. There was thinking time for replies and the first effort could vent spleen and be torn up. No emailed reply at midnight. When faxes first arrived the office would erupt into action. As if an emergency had been declared. No computers either so if a 40 page Lease had typos on every page the whole thing had to be totally re-typed. Comparisons of those deeds were of course done by trainees.
I vividly remember when female staff were allowed to wear trousers for the first time – during the three day week introduced by the Government to conserve electricity at the time of the Miners strike. I won’t go on as this is beginning to make you think I am Methuselah.
We would love for you to get involved in marking our platinum anniversary. Why not write a blog about the biggest changes you have seen in your career or your predications for the future. You could also enter our competition to design the front cover of our Journal magazine or consider nominating a colleague for honorary membership. Details of all of these things are on the Law Society of Scotland’s website.
Thankfully, we have seen lots of progression relating to equality in the legal profession. In 2018 we carried out a survey of our members looking at equality and diversity issues. It is the biggest survey of its kind in Scotland, with almost 3,000 full responses.
While many of the responses showed we are making great strides forward in this area, there’s still much to do and the team at the Law Society is working hard with members, employers and other organisations to ensure we see real progress.
I was pleased but a little surprised that most respondents felt they were achieving a work-life balance. And achieving a work-life balance was the most important career aspiration over the next five years which is something we all know is very difficult to achieve but which millennials especially are showing us the way on. This got me thinking about technology and how we can use this to help further streamline processes and help us achieve ‘more for less’.
Recently we launched Lawscot Tech which brings together relevant people to consider the challenges facing the legal profession and we try to identify potential technological solutions. By bringing people together with different experiences and expertise and working collaboratively, we hope to spark some creative and innovative thinking.
Technology has so much to offer the legal profession but one thing I am sure of is that technology can never replace the things that solicitors are renowned for – the listening ear, support and empathy – that hand of comfort on the shoulder. These attributes, along with world-leading education and training of our profession, ensure a high regard for solicitors. This has certainly been my raison d’etre for my life as a solicitor. Year after year the independent survey of the public in Scotland carried out by ComRes tells us that over 90% of the public who have used a solicitor think they are trustworthy and were satisfied with the service they received. The legal profession really does help make Scotland a better place helping to shape effective legislation and access to justice.
Everyone here this evening contributes in their own way to achieving that high regard and I would like to extend my thanks, the Law Society’s thanks and indeed the entire profession's thanks to all of our fabulous volunteers who are here this evening. Over 500 solicitors and interested members of the wider public contribute to our work be that on our Council and board, or on one of our public policy, professional practice or regulatory committees. Many dedicate a tremendous number of hours without grumble on top of their day jobs either because they love the law, are committed citizens or are passionate about reform or maybe all of the above. Whatever the motivation, you are simply marvellous. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without your help for the Law Society and our profession we would certainly not be able to do anything like as much work for the benefit of civic Scotland.
Sustainability of the profession is at the heart of almost all that we do at the Society. From setting rigorous regulatory requirements to assure the public and each other that we will work ethically at all times, to providing high quality training and development, to maintaining the highest possible standards in our universities in the teaching of law and in commenting on proposals for reform of the law we are constantly looking to the future and our role in civic society. I am very conscious too that access to a legal career should be available to those from all backgrounds.
To help us achieve a diverse and fair profession, we are very proud of the work we do through our charity the Lawscot Foundation.
With the support of the Lawscot Foundation, bright young students who could not otherwise afford to attend University will be provided with financial and mentoring support throughout the entirety of their degree and Diploma. Many of you may have contributed to our recent baublefest Christmas campaign or set up monthly giving or donated a one-off sum. Through the generosity of the profession and others we have been able to assist 17 so far to attend University funded for the entirety of the degree.
Some of the stories are truly heart-breaking. I hope you feel that this is a worthwhile cause to support.
Earlier I mentioned our wonderful volunteers. I'd now just like to take a few moments to acknowledge the society's staff. I have really enjoyed working alongside colleagues who are completely engaged, knowledgeable and very committed. I cannot tell you how much I admire this organisation which has been nominated as one of the best places to work. It is a wonderful example of how people can come together with one mind, work collaboratively and productively but most important, selflessly. This is down in no small part to the drive, energy and enthusiasm of Lorna Jack our Chief Executive and the senior leadership team. Theirs is the golden thread running through the whole team.
Which brings me neatly on to the office bearers. John Mullholland - I know you will be a fabulous president at the end of May.
John and I have spent a lot of time together in the past year travelling and attending meetings. He has a wicked sense of humour though sometimes it has to be said awful jokes.
I know he will carry on where I have left off – in fact a year is far too short a time to fulfil all that you should as President. I have to confess though that on some occasions you have almost lost your President and Vice president to plane flights to far off places – so engaged were we talking when walking to the gate we set off in entirely the wrong direction – I have seen places in Glasgow airport I didn’t know existed.
And as I mentioned earlier this evening, how wonderful that our Vice President elect is another woman! Amanda Millar.
I know Amanda will bring her own breath of fresh air and pragmatism to the job. She understands how important it is that we continue to achieve improvements in equality and diversity statistics and to roll out our ideas to the profession. I know both she and John will work together to keep the profession relevant in the 21st century and open to all with a passion for helping those who require access to justice and the rule of law with that comforting hand on the shoulder.
Finally I have to say thanks to my family for putting up with my frazzleness if there is such a word. I have been searching for the right noun to describe my family’s attitude to my Presidency – pride, deep pleasure, joy/delight? Alas no. The most appropriate word I can think of is “apathy”. Indifferent, unconcerned. Perhaps that’s a bit strong – and more like Mum doing her usual own thing. And here I would like to publicly ask for their forgiveness for my past parenting skills which at times lacked sympathy. They were never allowed to be ill. In fact, the only time Jenny was allowed to be off was when she had chickenpox and most fortunately my husband Iain had it at the same time, so they looked after each other. My poor son Richard faired worse with countless rugby injuries being passed off as nothing – I even made him go out to play rugby when he had sore ears – put on a hat and you will be alright. Deep sorrow though when I found out he had a perforated ear drum. You will get your revenge I am sure when after May I will be available to do “light” baby sitting duties – from time to time.
My greatest thanks of course go to my dearest husband Iain who has supported me unstintingly for the last year. He knows more about where I should be and when, than I do. He has been an excellent bag carrier on exciting trips abroad – although he let me down badly when a trip to Chicago via Dublin resulted in my bag being lost - for five whole weeks. So all these Chanel dresses and diamond bracelets had to be replaced in America.
But seriously thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
Thank you for listening!