Robert Bourns reflects on the start of his presidency, and discusses our new Pride in the profession campaign.
It is a pleasure to write this as I take a spare few personal minutes to reflect on things between the Law Society's annual general meeting and another engagement in preparation for the inauguration ceremony. This will mark the start of my term as the 172nd president of the Law Society of England and Wales. It is privilege and an honour to take up this post, and to take the helm of this great organisation, to represent, promote, and support this great profession.
Following the referendum decision to leave the EU, the past two or so weeks have been a time of great change. David Cameron, our prime minister for six years, has resigned. Our political system is going through seismic shift; we have a new prime minister in place, Mrs Theresa May; the newly created EU Unit has been established, and we have a new secretary of state for justice. Elizabeth Truss will be the first female lord chancellor to hold this post. While I write this, a new cabinet is being established, with positions being announced by the hour.
The next 12 months will be crucial for our profession, our laws and the standing of our jurisdiction, but I am confident that the Law Society will rise to the challenge. We at this organisation will do all that we can to minimise the impact of recent events, but more positively, promote the expertise of this profession to assist in the process. This is an opportunity.
This is also down to us as solicitors. We are the custodians of the rule of law. We have the expertise, the knowledge and the ability to shape the wider way ahead. We are very much open for business and despite a change in the political landscape, our legal system and our profession is dynamic, diverse and thriving.
Pride in the profession
I have great faith in the profession. So one of my main areas of activity over the next 12 months is to promote pride in the profession. I have several key focuses but central to everything I do will be promoting solicitors and of all the values that makes this profession what it is. This week, following the transfer of the office of president to me, I am excited, and delighted, to launch our Pride in the profession campaign, which is aimed at promoting the vital role of solicitors of England and Wales.
Throughout my presidential year, I will be seeking out and telling the stories of solicitors - promoting our members, their achievements, and examples of best practice in the profession. I want leaders, decision makers and the wider public know more about the vital contribution solicitors make, not just to UK PLC, but to our justice system, to the economy, and to society.
Three pillars of justice
There are three pillars underpinning this campaign. The first is our contribution to the judicial system. The solicitors' profession has created a substantial part of the network of justice provision across England and Wales and beyond. We are, of course, officers of the court.
We have established and underpin a substantial part of the justice network across England and Wales and, in the case of City firms, with global reach, well beyond.
We promote justice in a number of ways. For example, through our advice and work, thousands of disputes are resolved without reaching the courts. Though not a substitute for a properly funded legal aid system, the profession supports many of the most vulnerable in our communities, offering free early legal advice and, in some cases, representation. When cases actually do go to court, we know what needs to be done. We have the practical expertise and the technical ability to deliver the best outcomes for our clients.
The second pillar is our contribution to the economy. We will continue to promote this profession as diverse and dynamic, making a real and consistent economic contribution. The total value of legal services to the economy is £25.7 billion, with net exports of legal services were worth not less than £3.6 billion in 2014 and that we employ over 370,000 people. We must also not forget the importance of small and medium-sized firms and the prosperity, growth and stability that they bring to local economies and the justice system. This must also be acknowledged and will be a key focus of my work this year.
The final pillar is our role in the community. We will promote the significant contribution of solicitors to the community, and specifically our crucial role as instruments of justice and voices of authority when people are facing crises in their lives. We are with our clients every steps of the way, the person whom they can trust. A great deal of solicitors give up their time and expertise, being trustees and chairs of charities, by bringing their knowledge and expertise to bear in so many different situations and, of course, they do countless hours of pro bono work.
There is of course a final point I must make. Our profession should reflect the society and communities we represent and of which we are a part. Background, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender are no bar to a career in the law. This is a crucially important aspect of everything I want to achieve. It matters to me greatly, as president, as a solicitor, and as a person.
There is great power and potential in the diversity of this Society and profession. We must promote the values and interests that we share, so that the liberal democracy that we enjoy thrives, is strengthened, maintained and available to all.
To conclude, I want to reiterate that it is a great privilege to serve the solicitor profession as its 172nd president. As I said earlier, these are going to be trying times, but I will work tirelessly to support, promote and represent all of our profession to make the most of all opportunities, to drive the future of the profession and to celebrate pride in the profession. I very much look forward to the year ahead.
Find out more about Robert Bourns and watch his video