As your professional body, we are committed to understanding the challenges and issues you face within your practice area, your business and within the legal economy more widely (be it locally, nationally or internationally). In doing so, we aim to provide you with high quality and relevant support to enable your professional practice.
To allow us to achieve this, we have a relationship management team tasked with getting to know you, understanding the issues on the ground and bringing this information back to the Society to inform our work. Over the last few months our relationship management team has informed us that you have raised a broad range of topics that impact you or the profession more widely.
Criminal Legal Aid
In conversations with us, you have voiced concerns over the government’s failure to provide adequate funding in this already deprived area of law.
Currently some regional areas are affected particularly severely, for example in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cornwall there are no criminal law solicitors aged under 35. In Devon, Somerset, Wiltshire and Worcestershire over 60 per cent of the solicitors are aged over 50.
One explanation for these shortages is that criminal defence solicitors have received no fee increase since 1998. Combined with other cuts to the system, many lawyers no longer see a viable career doing this work, and it is difficult to attract and retain new members of the profession.
The issue was discussed between Simon Davis, deputy vice president of the Law Society, and the Association of South West Law Firms Society (ASWLS) during their latest Committee meeting held in Somerset.
Due to the severity of the issue, we are calling on the government to conduct an economic review of the long-term viability of the criminal legal aid system and to guarantee that criminal legal aid fees will rise with inflation. We have published new data on the crisis and encourage you to take part in our campaign by writing to your MP. For more information visit our website.
Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE)
We are also aware that concern and confusion continues amongst the profession in relation to the SQE. You have raised questions such as:
- How will it affect young people’s pathways into the profession?
- When will guidance be available from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to help firms define their future recruitment policies?
- Will we see a proliferation of online training, with investment from private equity, changing the face of legal training forever?
- Will the absence of a requirement for a law degree make solicitors ‘second class citizens’ compared with barristers?
We want to reassure you that we will continue to engage with the SRA on the SQE and will seek opportunities to input as the SQE assessments are developed and tested over the next 18 months. Answers to a number of the questions will become clearer soon.
In the meantime, we are looking at what forms of guidance and advice will help firms, solicitors and students adjust to these changes, both domestically and internationally. We have also been informed that the SRA are currently developing toolkits to support the transition.
If you would like to discuss this topic further or have preference on the support you need, please contact your relationship manager.
Diversity and Inclusion
Many of you have also told us that you have concerns around diversity and inclusion (D&I), despite having keen D&I committees and groups. In particular, you face challenges around recruitment and retention, social mobility and the gender pay gap and often you find it difficult to decide what your focus should be given the number of challenges you face.
Best practice is also a highly-discussed topic. Below are some examples of initiatives you have shared with us:
- Flexible working and compulsory resilience training was cited by one firm as assisting in reducing sickness levels and helping staff with stress management.
- Internal training on language perception and cultural behaviours to standardise the accepted language they should use within their firm has provided benefits to another firm.
- The apprenticeship route has helped address the issue of social mobility resulting in the successful recruitment of two new paralegals.
We continue to support members on these issues through our regional forums, which provide members with an opportunity to share and learn from one another. If you would like further information, please contact your relationship manager.
Our relationship management team would be pleased to hear from you with any other issues or challenges you see for yourself, your firm or the local legal economy. More information about the team and how to contact them is available on our website.