July’s meeting of the Law Society Council

Over two days, earlier this month, there was change afoot at the Law Society. The passing of the baton of presidency from Robert Bourns to Joe Egan was the first change. You can read Robert’s reflections on his year and Joe’s take on his upcoming role in their Gazette interviews.

There was also a further changing of the guard. The 13 council members stepping down were thanked for their work and a new intake of representatives for the profession is now being inducted to take their place. Please see the Law Society website for details of your representatives.

Council met at Chancery Lane on 5-6 July and the Council meeting was followed by the annual general meeting of the Law Society in the afternoon of 6 July.

A number of big policy issues affecting the profession, along with progress toward the setting of the practising certificate fee for 2017/18, and steps forward in our governance and business planning, were discussed.

Praise for unsung pro bono

Council discussed the great work done by Law Society members to support victims of the London Bridge, Finsbury Park and Manchester atrocities and the Grenfell Tower disaster. The Society has worked behind the scenes to help connect solicitors offering pro bono help with clients in desperate need. Concern was expressed at the meeting that claims management companies are approaching victims and seeking 25% of damages.

SRA Handbook – two-tier profession

Council discussed the need to alert members to the dangers to the profession caused by the SRA Handbook changes and proposals. The Society submitted a robust response to the Handbook consultation last year, including evidence from a large sample of firms and an economic analysis, but the SRA has recently announced plans to press ahead with creating a two-tier profession. The Society is very concerned that the proposals will create consumer confusion, increase the risks carried by the consumer and weaken the brand of solicitor. We believe that an unregulated firm providing legal services through a solicitor places a huge burden on the individual solicitor, without the protections and support a regulated firm would give. A briefing note for members is being developed as part of the campaign on this issue.

SQE – representing our views

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination was also discussed, with the Society preparing its response to the latest SRA consultation which is due to close this month. We will flag the need for rigour and clarity in the definition of ‘degree-equivalent’ as we want no drop in standards, especially in light of Brexit and the need to retain the global standing of the profession.

Brexit action

The Society has been working hard to help government as negotiations begin and ensure that issues including mutual recognition and access rights are central to discussion. These were set out in our manifesto for justice and have shaped dialogue with government. We have also been working with other European bars to protect our mutual interests as the process moves on.

The Society has a dedicated webpage (tinyurl.com/zb8c4ka) on its work to support the profession and the reputation of England and Wales as a global legal centre.

Greater diversity

Council discussed diversity in the profession and noted the work done by the Society to help increase this at all levels. This includes our Diversity and Inclusion Charter for firms, as well as our social mobility ambassadors, showcasing people who have come to the profession from non-traditional backgrounds and our divisions supporting women, ethnic-minority and LGBT lawyers and lawyers with disabilities. While the profession overall is now increasingly diverse, there remain barriers to progression with less diversity at senior levels in the law.

The Society will continue to focus on activities to support career progression and wellbeing for under-represented groups and help firms tackle these issues.

Gazette and Council

Council welcomed the new approach of the Gazette in featuring the outcomes of Council meetings and giving more visibility to the outputs of the Society’s expert committees.

Changes to governance for 2018

January 2018 will see the implementation of the first phase of new governance arrangements agreed by Council.

The governance review has been under way for some time, but the initial set of changes are now agreed. The current arrangement of four equal boards, considering Regulatory Affairs, Legal Policy, Membership and Management, reporting to Council, will end. A new Main Board will meet at least every two months. Feeding into this board will be one board covering policy and regulation and another covering membership and operations. Chairs of these boards will sit on the Main Board.

The specialist committees who bring their expert advice and perspective to the policy work of the Society will report to the policy and regulation board. The work of our committees is an essential part of the Law Society’s work for members.

Work is also under way by the Council Membership Committee to look at the representativeness of Council, and further reports will be given on this as the work develops.

Law Society of the future

As part of the business planning process for next year and beyond, a fresh look is being taken at the purpose of the Society and its objectives and culture. Several strands in the plan will be supported by thinking around the Society’s core purpose, refreshing what we offer to members and setting out how we will work in future. This will come together in plans for our next financial and business year which begins in November. Council also considered the Society’s role in training and education.

Digital development

Council has already committed to a multi-year programme of investment in IT. The initial phases are bringing our basic infrastructure up to date and future years will bring more significant change aligned to our business plans and our plans for how we work in the future.

My Law Society is the first step in generating a better understanding of members’ interests. Since we announced two months ago that practice notes were going behind My Law Society in June, registrations doubled. Since 1 June when the new system went live, they doubled again. Over 18,000 people have signed up so far.

Progress made – annual report and accounts

The Law Society Group’s annual report and accounts were presented. You can find them on our website, along with our annual business review which highlights our work last year to represent, promote and support our members.

Next meeting

The next meeting of Council is in London on 14 September.