Law Society Council meeting summary: 9 December 2015

Council’s last meeting of the 2015 calendar year saw a busy programme of reports and papers. Council was glad to hear of the public launch of the Law Society’s strategy which had been signed off in October and was launched in November through a wide variety of email, web-based and social media channels as well as hard copy. The strategic aims, which remain a key benchmark for Council decisions, are:

  • We will represent solicitors by speaking out for justice and on legal issues.
  • We will promote the value of using a solicitor at home and abroad.
  • We will support solicitors to develop their expertise and their businesses, irrespective of whether they work for themselves, in-house or for a law firm.

The review of the governance of the Law Society is now getting under way with several streams of preparatory work including identifying Council members to form a review working group. The Council agreed that the review would help ensure that the Law Society was able to deliver its strategy, representing, promoting and supporting the profession effectively, and to respond in a flexible and agile way to changes in the external environment.

 Criminal legal aid and court issues

Council discussed the concerns over the tender process run by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). Legal proceedings have been issued in 69 of the 85 procurement areas, and an alliance of firms began judicial review proceedings on 12 November. The LAA has now accepted, at our urging, that the target date of 11 January 2016 for starting the new services is unrealistic. We are continuing pressure on the LAA’s contingency plans to finalise these. We are also calling for an independent review of the tender process with a view to resolving the litigation as quickly as possible to end the current uncertainty. Council heard that the Society was calling for an independent review of the tender process and writing to Ministers to voice concerns, as well as raising them in meetings with the Justice Select Committee. This is in addition to a programme of support materials targeted directly at our members.

Council was pleased to hear of the withdrawal of the proposals on the criminal courts charge, an issue the Law Society had lobbied hard to reverse and also noted the Society’s strong response to the government’s consultation on criminal advocacy, and our campaign, with others, against court closures.

 Other activity to support the strategy

Council heard about a range of other activity supporting the strategy. This included a discussion on legal professional privilege in the digital age as part of our activity for the Opening of the Legal Year, and work to support our members in promoting access to justice by vulnerable clients. Council also heard about ways in which the Law Society is raising its game on targeted electronic communication with our members, and developing a new stakeholder relations strategy, to ensure that we are well placed to support and represent our members. Internationally, the President and colleagues attended the International Bar Association (IBA) conference, with the Society this year securing a record number of ten speaking slots at the main conference, and promoting the profession by holding stakeholder relationship meetings with global firms that are prominent in the IBA. Council also noted that since the last meeting the Law Society has made 26 responses to consultations or calls for evidence, showing significant thought leadership in our representative and influencing role. This is in addition to wide coverage of our report on the potential impact of a British exit from the EU.

 Equality, diversity and inclusion

Council noted a substantial programme of work, including a series of events in October and November for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic members. The Black History Month inspiration evening was attended by over 200 people, with other events to support career development for BAME lawyers, as well as a celebration of the Hindu festival Diwali attended by 100 people. Equal Pay Day on 9 November was marked by the Equal Pay practice note and toolkit. Council looks forward, at its next meeting, to considering the new 2016-2019 Equality and Diversity Framework which sets out plans for promoting equality, diversity and inclusion in the profession and in the Society’s workforce.

 Legal Practice Technologies (LPT)

Council noted that it had been announced that the Society would not be making any further investment in Legal Practice Technologies, the joint venture company with our partners Mastek who were to deliver Veyo. As indicated, this was essentially because other software providers operating in the conveyancing market had been responding to our members’ needs and the cost and time taken to get a viable product to market would be too much. Faced with the reality that the market had developed significantly since we started to develop Veyo, the costs of continuing outweighed the benefit to our members. Council had the opportunity to discuss the decision in detail, and to consider how we should now develop our support for firms which undertake conveyancing.