So why aren’t we all queuing up to become hairdressers, and why do Scottish solicitors continue to number some 11,500? Many attempts have been made over the years to establish which professions promise health, wealth and happiness and which will leave you sad, stressed and stony broke.
It would be pointless to deny that as solicitors, we have our grumbles. The legal aid situation for example, is the source of much frustration and the modern world seems to demand that we work harder, faster, smarter – a development that is not without its challenges. But the same can be said of most careers. Few things worth doing come easy and when we are feeling the strain, it can be helpful to remind ourselves of why we joined the profession in the first place.
I can’t speak for all solicitors – one of the great things about a career in the law is the huge variety of roles and opportunities – but for my own part, I am very clear on why I chose to become a solicitor those 38 years ago.
I will spare you the full story, but it involved the unjust demise of a pair of farm dogs and an unapologetic farmer. But put simply, I was moved by a desire to represent those who might not otherwise have a voice and the overarching concept of ‘justice’.
And I am prepared to go out on a limb and suggest that many of my fellow solicitors share my motivations. Of course, the profession has many features which recommend it to the would-be workforce, but what I believe all lawyers share, be they family, commercial or criminal solicitors, is a desire to use the letter of the law fairly, to protect the best interests of their client and for the ‘greater good’.
That brings me neatly to the theme of this year’s annual conference, ‘for the greater good’; which will put my theory to the test and consider amongst other things why solicitors join the profession.
I am genuinely excited by the ambition and substance of the content. Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase ‘the medium is the message’ and if our message is built around ‘the greater good’ then the sheer variety of subject matter will make sure that there is something for everyone.
The programme comprises lecture style events, panel discussions and for the first time, a series of fringe events, including a workshop on how to write an awards entry (aimed at firms who may deserve the prize but don’t have dedicated resource to enter) and a session on our new financial benchmarking research.
No delve into how law works for the greater good would be complete without a deep dive into access to justice. For my money Jo Maugham QC (founder of the Good Law Project), Aamer Anwar (human rights solicitor and Scottish Legal Awards 2017 lawyer of the year), Paul Brown (Legal Services Agency) and Karyn McCluskey (Chief Executive of Community Justice Scotland) make up a brilliant panel, discussing help for the vulnerable and those most in need.
We will address other challenging subjects, such as the tension between ethics and commercial imperatives and the moral and socioeconomic factors behind helping vulnerable groups. And we have some truly inspirational presenters lined up. Scottish solicitor and director of legal & business affairs at Manchester United, Patrick Stewart, will join Law Society of Scotland chief executive Lorna Jack on a panel looking at high performance teams, while our keynote speakers are Olympic gold medallist Dame Katherine Grainger and The Right Honourable Lord Carloway, Lord President of the Court of Session.
With a jam-packed agenda, incorporating three streams of content – For the Greater Good, Business and Technology and Brexit and the Rule of Law – our speakers are too numerous to name. But I am confident delegates will leave this year’s conference reminded of their reasons for becoming solicitors and of the positivity and enthusiasm with which they entered the profession. And hopefully, they will be inspired about the future too.
Graham Matthews is president of the Law Society of Scotland