Law Society deputy vice-president says she will bring a unique perspective.
My professional journey began in Buckinghamshire, where I still live. As a child I nursed a dream to one day become a lawyer. I wanted to emulate my then role model Margaret Thatcher, whom I saw as a strong female leader – even if I disagreed with many of her later policies. At the time, she was the only visible female role model in politics.
In my family, I am first generation British, the first to go to university and the first to qualify as a solicitor. I do not come from a privileged background. I was raised by a single parent in an Afro-Caribbean working-class home. My grandparents and parents came to the UK from the Caribbean in search of faith, hope and greater opportunities.
I was the first person in my family to stay in education after the age of 16, and went to a comprehensive school having failed the selective exam. I dreamed of joining the legal profession, but time and time again I was told that because of my socioeconomic background I would never make it. But it is amazing what you can achieve when you are determined and resilient.
I initially wanted to qualify as a barrister but knew I would be unable to support myself through pupillage. Instead I turned my attention to the solicitor profession. I qualified with a small practice steeped in hundreds of years of local history in the town where I still live.
Over time, my sense of justice grew as I watched people (both in the UK and internationally) struggle to exercise their rights. Legal rights mean nothing if people cannot exercise them. The Law Society’s public interest role places us as a guardian of the rule of law and we have a strong responsibility to ensure access to justice is available for all.
Our role as solicitors in achieving a fairer justice system has never been as important as it is today. We must stress the contribution solicitors make to the economy and wider society, as we press government to properly fund our justice system so it is equitable, accessible and affordable. In today’s society, it simply cannot be right that access to justice is only available to those who can self-fund.
The legal sector is going through a period of unprecedented change, driven by technological and market development, changes in consumer behaviour, Brexit and regulatory reforms.
The UK is the second largest provider of legal services internationally and the largest in the European Union. However, we now face instability and slower growth in the legal sector, all as a direct consequence of the Brexit vote and the associated political and economic uncertainties affecting our clients’ affairs.
Legal certainty is required around recognition and enforcement of judgments, the ability to practise and establish firms in EU member states, and how legal services are to operate following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
The Society is working to represent the views of its members on Brexit and influence the UK government, stakeholders and EU institutions.
In light of changes to the legal services market, the varying needs of different types of client, regulatory debates, and the need to promote greater equality, diversity and inclusion in the profession, it is of course impossible to please all of the people, all the time.
However, we have a duty to future generations of solicitors to leave the profession in better shape than we inherited it. We must continue to develop our work on increasing diversity and inclusion. We must ensure that genuine equality of opportunity exists so that we continue to attract the best and brightest – regardless of their gender, background or ethnicity.
This is an extraordinary profession. Making positive changes must be a shared ambition among each and every one of us – we must be the champions of continuing change. The next generation of solicitors expects a progressive Law Society and profession.
I want to continue to be part of a forward-looking body that advocates and promotes change, challenges and influences whatever the future may hold. It is my intention to leave this profession more diverse and inclusive than the one I entered.
I bring a unique perspective to this role with my skills and experience. I do not and will not underestimate the significance of my election as an office-holder. I will work to continue to raise awareness of the solicitor profession and the extraordinary work we do. I intend to be visible and collaborative, seek to renew old acquaintances and forge new alliances – and am hugely grateful to my colleagues for making all this possible. It will be my honour to serve.
I. Stephanie Boyce is deputy vice-president of the Law Society