This was Simon Davis’ last Council meeting as Law Society president and warm tribute was paid to him for his leadership in very difficult times. A welcome was extended to David Greene, I Stephanie Boyce and Lubna Shuja. They were confirmed as incoming president, vice-president, and deputy vice-president respectively at the annual general meeting which took place later that day.
A profession representative of the society we serve has long been a priority at Chancery Lane – a goal the Black Lives Matter movement has brought into even sharper focus in recent months.
At the latest Law Society Council meeting, representatives of the profession were updated on our work in this area, including research into the career experiences of black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) members of the profession which we began in late-2019.
The project came about as a result of discussions with our Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division and aims to investigate progress made over the last decade and uncover new issues. The findings will promote understanding of the challenges faced by BAME solicitors and provide an evidence base to underpin strategies and member-facing support.
The Ministry of Justice announced its decision on the ‘accelerated items’ within the Criminal Legal Aid Review. As a result of our lobbying, they have doubled the proposed fee our members will receive for work on cases sent to Crown court. They have also confirmed that work on the review of the sustainability of criminal defence practice will be conducted independently and undertaken to look at concerns around the sustainability of civil legal aid work – both things we have been pushing for.
We have had significant engagement with the SRA and LSB about the Solicitors Qualifying Exam. The SRA has changed its plans in relation to transitional arrangements, in line with our advice, and committed to monitor and address equality implications of the new system.
Council was pleased to hear that after discussions with the Society about the challenges facing practitioners seeking to execute wills, the MoJ announced video witnessing would be valid for two years, backdated to the end of January 2020.
The chief executive reported that in this quarter we continued to focus our public affairs work on addressing the pandemic. From June to date, the Society and its campaigns were mentioned 97 times in Hansard and in social media accounts linked to parliamentarians on many issues. In June, the president gave evidence to the House of Lords EU Services Committee on UK-EU negotiations, and in July provided evidence to the Constitution Committee on the impact of Covid-19 on the courts. In the past three months, we have also met senior government and parliamentary stakeholders, including the lord chancellor. We continue to be active in promoting and supporting the role of the solicitors’ profession in maintaining a focus on the rule of law and access to justice.
Supporting members during Covid-19
Council noted that the insight gathered by speaking directly to members throughout the pandemic has been crucial to our ability to respond quickly, appropriately and effectively. The lessons from this will help us explore new ways to connect with members.
Diversity Access Scheme
Our Diversity Access Scheme (DAS) helps talented people who would otherwise be unable to pursue a career in law by providing funding for their Legal Practice Course and helping secure work placements and professional mentors. We offer 10 DAS awards each year. Five out of 10 DAS awardees from 2019 have secured training contracts in a diverse range of settings, including the CPS and the City. Work has begun on DAS for 2021.
Social Mobility Ambassadors
The Social Mobility Ambassador (SMA) scheme promotes role models from non-traditional backgrounds who support their peers and prospective solicitors.
The recruitment process for SMAs was redesigned to make it clearer as well as more accessible to candidates with disabilities. We received 85 applications and interviewed 27 candidates.
We have recruited 13 new SMAs. As part of a drive to represent a wide geographical area, we have a Welsh SMA targeting Wales.
It was reported to Council that we are in the process of finalising the launch of our pilot digital community designed to connect small firm members to one another and to the Society. The pilot will test the concept of digital communities in real time with a live issue: support for small firms as the country reopens post-Covid. The digital community aims to increase awareness of content and resources available to small firms.
May saw the start of our online events replacing face-to-face events cancelled earlier in the year. Between May and July, we held our first ever virtual conference (the annual JLD conference), 32 webinars and nine podcasts attracting 4,700 delegate bookings and a live viewing conversion rate of 65%. The online events have been well received and our geographical reach has increased by 50%.
Learning and development
October has been a significant month for the new member learning and development offer. We will launch to around 50,000 members from three cohorts (in-house practitioners, compliance specialists and junior lawyers). Our bite-sized content will be available to purchase to these cohorts.
Looking to the future
Council approved the draft business plan for 2020/21. It focuses on building an even stronger connection with our members, delivering focused and influential policy work, and continuing to become an even more effective and efficient organisation.