Looking back over 2017
This was a year where planning for change while delivering business as usual was on the agenda. Above- target budget savings were reported to Council and strong foundations were laid in preparation for the newly agreed five-year plan. Increased satisfaction and reduced cost to members are at the heart of that plan. Improved financial modelling and the beginning of our transformative investment in IT were achieved, which will enable us to better serve our members in future. The Law Society’s Business Review, setting out our achievements for 2017, will be published in the new year.
Changes to governance
Progress continues with the modernisation of governance arrangements. The new Law Society Board and its two main supporting committees (Policy and Regulatory Affairs Committee, and Membership and Operations Committee) will be established in early 2018 – the Board by the end of February and the Committees by the end of March.
This is part of wider changes to Law Society governance which will be implemented next year. The Board will replace the four existing Boards. The roles of Council, the Board and the two new committees have been agreed and an outline schedule of meetings is now in place.
Council approved the selection committee’s recommendation that Robert Bourns, past president, should be appointed as Board chair. Law Society president Joe Egan said: ‘I welcome Robert into the new role. Having worked with him in the office holder team, I am delighted with the appointment. As has already been announced, the new Board represents a significant streamlining of existing structures for the professional body for solicitors.’
Bourns will take up his new post in 2018. Recruitment of the rest of the Board is now under way and elections among Council members for some places on the Board and committees will commence shortly.
Council also heard a brief update on ongoing work to consider the functions, shape and representativeness of Council itself. Proposals are still in development following feedback at the previous Council meeting, and discussions are being held with a number of Law Society communities and other interested parties.
A significant programme of work is under way to improve the value the Society delivers to members. Council was updated on this work, which will continue in 2018 with a fresh consideration of the services the Society offers. The Society’s future focus will be on influencing for impact; promoting the profession; keeping members up to date with news from the sector; enabling practice excellence; and supporting members at every stage of their career.
Supporting the profession
Following extensive lobbying by the Law Society and others, HMCTS announced the deferral of the Flexible Opening Hours pilot, to allow further engagement with court users as well as a further tender process to secure an independent evaluator. The Law Society had also been making submissions to HMRC on a number of matters including the proposed penalties for ‘enablers’ of tax avoidance.
Council was also updated on the work of the relationship management team, a group of staff with four main areas of focus: regional activities, engagement with local law societies, gaining insights from member feedback, and a ‘joined-up’ approach to member engagement. Council also noted the creation of a Law Society Quality and Standards in Education Committee to provide expert oversight of all aspects of quality and standards associated with the Society’s education, training and accreditations. Another matter of note was that, during Pro Bono week in November, the 54 founder signatories of the Pro Bono Charter launched by the Law Society in 2016 had been invited to a forum to discuss the next 12 months of the Charter.
The president made his half-yearly report to Council. Among matters highlighted was extensive engagement with political and non-political stakeholders, both over the party conference seasons and in regular meetings with ministers and opposition spokespeople. There has also been active engagement with the judiciary, including a meeting with the new president of the Supreme Court, and the new lord chief justice, at whose swearing-in the president spoke on access to justice covering topics including court fees, criminal legal aid and the courts modernisation programme. The president reported good progress on the ‘Pride in the Profession’ campaign, by way of the Global Legal Centre, attendance at several international conferences, and a busy programme of engagement domestically with local law societies and others.
Council was updated on a range of work to support the profession. Our submissions on the Solicitors Regulation Authority Handbook and price transparency were seen to have major implications for the profession. Our consultation responses were published in advance of the submission deadline in order to help members finalise their own responses to the significant changes proposed by the SRA.
The success of the Law Society’s Excellence Awards 2017 was noted with more people joining the event to applaud those at the top of their game across our diverse profession. The Society plans to move to a bigger venue next year to enable more members to join in the celebration of the best in the profession.
Lobbying on Brexit
The Society’s involvement in briefing MPs on the second reading and committee stage of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill was reported to Council. This focused on the Society’s main concerns, which related to the impact of the bill on citizens’ rights and on devolution, and its compatibility with transitional arrangements. The Society had submitted written evidence to two parliamentary committees on these matters and held meetings with several key stakeholders.
It had also been active in a number of government industry/sector groups, including the Brexit Law Committee and the Professional Business Services Council’s Mutual Market Access Group. The Law Societies Brussels office had also organised a series of meetings with MEPs and law firms.
Council noted that the Society was represented at the International Bar Association annual conference, attending a roundtable with law firms organised by Lord Keen, as well as speaking on panels covering topics including pro bono, global legal markets, enhancing the presence of female talent in law firms, and the balance between migration, international security, rule of law and terrorism.
The Society also attended the Union Internationale des Avocats annual congress in Toronto. President Joe Egan spoke on the disciplinary rules that should apply to lawyers working under mobility rules. At the end of November the Society hosted the second roundtable on women in the law, championed and chaired by vice-president Christina Blacklaws, at which the strategy for the international programme on women in the law was presented and agreed.
Coming home in 2018
Work has been under way to fix the Council Chamber roof at Chancery Lane this year. We expect Council meetings to return to the Law Society’s Hall in 2018.