Access to justice and expertise main priority

THE year ahead with Christine McLintock, president of the Law Society of Scotland

The High Court in Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL

In recent weeks, the question I have been asked most often is ‘what do you want to achieve as Law Society’s president?’

My response has been simple: “It’s not about me.” Rather it is about how best the Law Society can work for its solicitor members and the public.

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It is a privilege to lead and represent Scotland’s legal profession and I am looking forward to the year ahead.

I intend to continue the good work of my predecessor Alistair Morris, who did a terrific job during a year that saw a global spotlight shine on Scotland regarding its constitutional future and which saw us bring the prestigious Commonwealth Law Conference to Glasgow.

The Queen’s Speech has ensured there will be no let-up on debate on Scotland’s future following publication of a new Scotland Bill. We intend to play a full role in examining the bill as it progresses to ensure its proposals can work in practice.

An EU referendum is also in the pipeline. While we will adopt a neutral stance, as we did during the Scottish independence debate, we will urge political parties to consider potential outcomes of an EU exit – how they would maintain any economic benefits and barrier-free access to critical markets and whether the major policy, legislative and administrative complexities of an exit would have a detrimental effect on relations between England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I am looking forward to working alongside new vice president Eilidh Wiseman to ensure the Society can meet the needs of its membership and all those who rely on solicitors’ professionalism and expertise. There is much to be proud of within Scotland’s legal profession and I am keen to highlight the work solicitors do, day-in day-out for clients and organisations across the public and private sectors.

Overall, the profession has responded well to ongoing, significant change and there is increasing optimism among solicitors. However our members need to be aware of issues coming down the track and we aim to increase engagement and highlight possible challenges and opportunities.

This includes the increasing use of technology. It offers great potential to improve efficiency and reduce costs for solicitors as well as the public purse. The Society’s digital strategy, including the Smartcard roll-out to members and the tender for developing an online conveyancing portal, is in step with the increased digitisation elsewhere and particularly the courts.

Likewise, ensuring access to justice will be key following publication of our recommendations on improving the legal aid system. It is fundamental people can access the legal advice and representation they need, regardless of their financial circumstances and we will work with the Scottish Government and others to develop a better legal aid system for Scotland.

An issue close to my heart is Scotland’s legal education system. It should be recognised as the jewel in the crown that it is. It’s important we have a diverse legal profession and that we continue to attract talented individuals who, if they have the ability and ambition to become a solicitor, should not have to face unnecessary, and particularly financial, barriers.

Scotland’s legal profession has a proud history but solicitors have long been adept at adapting to change. To help ensure their success, the Law Society also needs to change.

We published our ‘Towards 2020’ strategy in 2011. That’s only four years ago, but the huge change affecting the legal sector led to us reviewing and substantially revising that strategy so we can remain relevant, effective and work towards being a truly world-class professional body. The new strategy – to be published this summer – is highly ambitious and I’m excited about discussing our plans for the future with our solicitor members and other stakeholders during the next 12 months.

• Christine McLintock is president of the Law Society of Scotland. She was risk and knowledge management partner and a board member at McGrigors.