Solicitors are the ‘beating heart’ of every community but a ‘naturally modest’ profession does not get the credit it deserves, new Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said in his inaugural speech tonight.

His priorities over the next 12 months include protecting the rule of law, ensuring access to justice for everyone and improving property transfer in England and Wales.

Speaking at the Law Society, Smithers (pictured) also asserted that Chancery Lane now enjoys a ‘better and more mature relationship than ever before’ with the Solicitors Regulation Authority following the ‘growing pains’ of the regulator’s early years.

‘There are differences of opinion, as there always will be, [which] is of course the point of having a separate organisation. But I know that working together for the common good is at the top of everybody’s agenda,’ he said.

Smithers, a conveyancing and land law specialist, is senior partner at Tunbridge Wells firm Cooper Burnett, where he has spent his entire career. As with his predecessor Andrew Caplen, fighting for access to justice for all amid austerity will be a key theme of his presidency.

‘Cuts to funding and changes in eligibility have left vulnerable people without representation and the supply of legal services unstable and unsustainable,’ he said. ‘There are hard questions to be asked about what price society should be prepared to pay for justice and the very real consequences of not doing so.

‘I will be making the case that we need a properly funded justice system and the seemingly inevitable conclusion [is] that there must be a return of funding in some areas.’

Smithers also warned that solicitors cannot be expected to fill the void created by funding cuts by working for nothing, following justice secretary Michael Gove’s pledge last month to consider forcing wealthier lawyers to do more pro bono.

Said Smithers: ‘We can encourage greater participation [in pro bono] but in reality [it] cannot hope to bridge the funding gap. To suggest otherwise is, I believe, truly to misunderstand the issues.’ 

The full speech can be read here.