Law Society spotlight
Council was back in Chancery Lane for its July meeting, Joe Egan’s last as Law Society president. The AGM took place the following day as did the inauguration of Christina Blacklaws as president. She is joined by vice-president Simon Davis and deputy vice-president David Greene. Christina paid tribute to Joe for his service during three years as an office-holder.
A number of council members took the opportunity to welcome the new chief executive – Paul Tennant - who has served in post as an interim since April 2017.
A central part of this council gathering was to consider Paul’s plans for the Society – as well as some achievements so far which include setting the Society’s purpose, vision, goals, member offer and values; the five-year corporate plan and the new governance arrangements; and the future vision for the Society: Shaping our Future.
Paul also highlighted some of his priorities including creating a seamless experience for members, a modernised working environment, a new spirit of collaboration and creativity, all underpinned by a transformed IT system.
Marks of respect
A minute’s silence was observed in tribute to Paul Marsh, Law Society president in 2008/09, who has died aged 70. Paul represented the Surrey constituency for two decades, was chair of Solicitors’ Indemnity Fund for several years and served on the Society’s Conveyancing and Land Law committee, which he also chaired for two years. He was heavily involved in the creation of the now-established quality mark, the Conveyancing Quality Scheme. In 2012 he was appointed to the first board of the Solicitors Regulation Authority to have a lay majority, stepping down last year.
Influencing for impact – Brexit
The Society continues to press the government to put professional services and the legal profession at the heart of a new deal with the EU27, alongside security and the rights of all our citizens. Office-holders and staff have held a series of meetings with ministers and we have provided evidence on Brexit to four committees in Westminster and one committee in the European Parliament. We also have an important role to play as a convenor of expert opinion and in presenting fact-based argument about the potential effects of Brexit. Council were told about our recent central role in drafting the Professional and Business Services Council’s letter to Theresa May setting out the importance of professional and business services to the UK economy.
Council were told of meetings with the Russian Ministry of Justice and the Russian federal chamber of advocates in response to continuing discussions about reform of the legal profession in Russia and the likely impact on 31 UK and other international law firms currently based there. Officeholders represented the Society at eight international events including in South Korea, the US, Austria and Kazakhstan.
We organised seminars on Brexit and legal technology with the National Council of French Bars and the Paris Bar to raise the issue of practice rights and requalification in France post-Brexit.
We continue to intervene in a number of human rights and rule of law issues.
Influencing at home
Our campaign on criminal duty solicitors was mentioned in Parliament and our evidence on early advice and criminal duty solicitors being in danger of extinction was acknowledged and referenced by the lord chief justice and the Justice Select Committee. So far this year the Society has been mentioned on 124 occasions in Parliament and we’ve given evidence to 10 select committee inquiries, drafted 27 parliamentary questions and been cited 15 times in judicial argument or practice notes.
The new Welsh Land Transaction Tax replaced the UK Stamp Duty Land Tax in Wales on 1 April. The successful introduction of the tax followed close engagement with the Welsh Revenue Authority.
We secured significant media coverage for our concerns about the quality of Home Office decision-making in immigration and asylum cases, and the implications of restricting applicants’ right to make data protection subject-access requests for information about their cases. An interview on the Today programme led to the offer of a meeting with senior Home Office officials. The Society has secured more media broadcasts in the first six months of 2018 than in the whole of 2017.
Promoting the profession
Our Solicitor Brand Campaign ran from 16 April to 28 May utilising a number of channels. These included:
- Advertising on digital screens in 29 key cities;
- Ads in 220 tram interiors;
- 80 metro carriage cards;
- Posters at 400 rail locations; and
- TV advertising in 8 regions.
Keeping members informed
We engaged with members on the Solicitor Regulation Authority’s professional indemnity insurance consultation, publishing a briefing explaining the proposals and risks to members.
The Law Society’s partnership with Barclays launched in June and the legal tech incubator is set to open later in the summer. This initiative sees us act as a hub to help connect up the legal eco system for our members’ benefit.
The new Board has now got into its stride as have our new committees covering membership and operations, and policy and regulatory affairs. The new audit committee is also up and running.
Council debates access to justice
The crisis in criminal justice and the growing problem of access to civil justice were the subject of lively debate. The Society continues to campaign vigorously around a series of issues – from the crumbling court infrastructure, failings in disclosure of evidence, housing advice deserts, to the near extinction of criminal legal aid solicitors in some parts of the country as younger members opt not to pursue this area of law. The council talked about a range of issues including accessing courts and tribunals without undue barriers, access to advice and representation in a meaningful way - not just in theory – and the need to inform the public about the importance of these issues. People who cannot afford legal advice must be able to access it through a properly funded system of legal aid and justice must be achievable for everybody. The cost of registering a case in courts and tribunals was also an issue of concern for council, as was the fact that the UK had slipped down the index for access to justice compiled for the World Justice Partnership.