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Local law societies will have to reassess role
During May, I welcomed the presidents and secretaries of local law societies from across England and Wales to Chancery Lane. We discussed the responsibility that flows from representing a profession that is, on the one hand, successful, diverse and adaptable and, on the other, faced with unprecedented changes.
The imperative now is for us all to work together at national and local level to help our members succeed in the new legal services market and grab the opportunities that it offers. The national and local law societies have complementary roles in supporting the future health of the profession. Our objectives remain the same: a dynamic, financially secure and independent legal profession which operates effectively in the new market to serve the interests of the rule of law, justice and our clients.
With this in mind and for the sake of the individual members who depend on us, we must all reach out across the profession to engage the enthusiasm and energies of as many solicitors as possible, so as to develop and deliver those services which are of greatest value to our members. Local law societies achieve a huge amount, but in many cases it is on the strength of a few committed people. Although I applaud their dedication, this is not sustainable in the longer term, and given the ways in which legal practices are likely to change over the coming years, questions will inevitably arise for law societies about who they wish to represent and how their relationships with non-legal professionals should develop.
On my travels, I have met many lawyers who are new to the profession. I am always impressed by their enthusiasm, collegiality, dedication and capacity for new ideas. Junior lawyers are fantastic at networking – as anyone who has ever attended a Junior Lawyers Division party will confirm – and they are involved in and engaged with new media, which can offer local law societies new ways of communicating with their potential membership. I think that the Law Society and local law societies are both guilty of not fully engaging with this section of the profession.
If we cannot engage the enthusiasm of junior lawyers now, then we will find it harder to do so as their careers progress. I believe it is all too easy for new lawyers to just drift off from the national and local law society fold, and it should be in all our interests to make special efforts to prevent that.
The Law Society needs to encourage junior lawyers to put themselves forward for council and committee positions. It may also be helpful for local law societies to reach out to newly qualified lawyers and the JLD to encourage individuals to take a role in their local law society, understanding how it works and how they can contribute, in the hope of sustaining their commitment as their careers progress.
Meanwhile, the Law Society will continue to work with all of our members: promoting the work and activities that the Law Society has to offer; keeping the profession informed of national trends; and linking individuals into specific areas of the Law Society’s work, including risk and compliance issues. These will increase in significance as compliance officers for legal practice and compliance officers for finance and administration become responsible for their firms’ compliance.
Local law societies and their members have also been instrumental in helping to secure changes to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, reversing HSBC’s decision to severely restrict its lender panel and providing tangible examples of unscrupulous will-writers who have acted incompetently, leading to the recommendation from the Legal Services Board that will-writing becomes a reserved activity. The links we have forged and the respect we have gained for the principled stance we take as we campaign together, in the public interest, will stand us in good stead as we gird ourselves up to ensure that, in the new world of reduced public funding, there is access to justice.
Over the past three years, as an office holder of the Law Society, I have been fortunate enough to spend time visiting solicitors in some of the finest towns and cities in England and Wales. In doing so, I have learned more about our profession and the clients it serves than in the whole of my previous career. I have met and enjoyed the hospitality of the most committed and inspiring group of people and have no doubt that the co-operation between the Law Society and local law societies will go from strength to strength, in the interests of the entire profession.
Launch of Solicitor Judges Division
I was proud to take part in the launch of the Law Society’s Solicitor Judges Division in London this month, followed by launch events across England. Our Cardiff launch is scheduled for October. The division has been developed in response to feedback from solicitor judges to ensure that our members who are appointed to the judiciary do not lose contact with the Society or the profession. I hope that the new division will create a community of solicitor judges in all courts and tribunals to provide support, and that their desire to give something back to the profession will help other solicitors to aspire to a judicial appointment. Membership is free and the division is open to any holder of a judicial appointment who is on the roll of solicitors, in either courts or tribunals.
I trust that a welcome by-product of the division will be that more solicitors choose to follow in their footsteps. We are indeed engaged in many streams of work to increase the number of solicitor judges.
John Wotton is president of the Law Society