On 6 July, vice-president of the Law Society Joe Egan became the 173rd president, taking over former president Robert Bourns. Joe delivered his inaugural speech at the Annual General Meeting, at the Law Society in Chancery Lane.
Friends, Colleagues, Family
Welcome to the Hallowed Halls of the Law Society.
Today I have joined a very exclusive club. Unfortunately, since most of the members are deceased it makes organising an annual reunion rather difficult. However, Robert and I have agreed to meet every ten years on the steps of the Knights Templar. Robert wanted the Royal Courts of Justice but as I pointed out to him, they don’t have real ale.
I imagine that there is not a single President among my 172 predecessors who has not stood here and said what an honour it is to be elected to lead this ancient and honourable profession. Even after two years I am still a little shell shocked. The prospect of someone coming through the door and saying “Sorry, there has been a recount…..” has always lurked at the back of my mind
Those of you who know me well are aware that I like to use the word weltanshaung without really knowing what it means. Other than it’s a shame the Germans don’t have a word for it. But you know that my philosophy of life is to get on with things and not worry about trivia.
It is inevitable that there will be battles ahead. Robert is a very, very hard act to follow. Winston Churchill suggested that Clement Atlee was a modest man with much to be modest about. Robert, by contrast, is a modest man but with very little to be modest about.
The way he dealt with the resignation of the CEO and then carried Council with him as he navigated the perilous waters of governance changes was simply magnificent. It will be very hard to step out from his shadow.
I wish him well as he retires to the back benches and has more time to tinker with his new tractor. See Tom. If you get it right you can be a solicitor and have a tractor. Sorry. Family joke.
Tradition dictates that I set out at least some of my priorities for the coming year.
I suppose the first priority is what The Times, last week, labelled “keeping the ship steady”. This is a huge, complex organisation. We have got to ensure that it continues to run smoothly whilst at the same time, with access to the people at the top, look at whether it is going in the right direction.
Whether it is doing what the profession wants it to do rather than, perhaps, what it thinks the profession wants it to do.
One of the best bits of my two year apprenticeship is my second priority. Promoting the profession at home and abroad. From Plymouth to Doncaster, Shrewsbury to Newcastle, Dorset to Peterborough I have promoted the profession all over. Song in there somewhere.
Wonderful Friday nights meeting fascinating people and eating lots of chicken at Local Law Society Dinners.
Simon; You will be absolutely amazed at the variety of sauces that can be served with chicken
Wonderful Friday nights marvelling at the way LLS manage not only to keep going but to organise such excellent events.
I propose, as a further priority to gather that experience in the LLS Handbook although we may have to call it the LLS Manual. We really do not want it to be confused with what the SRA are about to bring out.
When I get a leaflet through my door offering legal services. From a firm advertising that it is “Regulated by the Paralegal Association” but pointing out that it has access to independent solicitors. I worry. They are using our brand to sell their services to an unsuspecting public.
A public unaware of its lack of protection
When the SRA sets out to allow such organisations to actually employ solicitors without having to be regulated themselves, then I know that we have a battle on our hands.
It is a battle Robert has not shirked. I fully intend to press on with it This is an argument we have to win
And, of course, promoting the profession internationally by leading our “Global Legal Centre” campaign. Promoting our profession and jurisdiction as the leading centre for legal services.
Visits, this last year, to St Petersburg, Astana in Kazakhstan, Melbourne, Brasil, Edinburgh and Belfast have opened my eyes to the esteem in which this jurisdiction and our profession are held.
Robert worked hard to build relationships with and influence government. He has graciously agreed to carry on working on the Mayor of London’s Brexit Committee.
It is encouraging that the new Lord Chancellor has committed to promoting “our excellent legal services both at home and as a major UK export”
It is encouraging that he has expressed his determination to safeguard our independent judiciary and the excellence of our courts.
And it is encouraging that he has expressed an aspiration for the reforms to the courts to deliver swifter justice putting those who use them at the centre of the process.
But we have heard fine words before. It is our job to make sure that those fine words become reality. We look forward to engaging with him on these important and shared ambitions.
My fourth priority will be to continue the Access to Justice campaign. Most, if not all of us came into the profession to ensure that people could exercise their rights.
Robert has installed the idea of a steady drumbeat showing that we are proud of our profession and reminding the nation just how, day in day out, we keep the wheels of justice and business oiled.
That steady drumbeat has to become massed pipes and drums as we remind the Government that a country where people cannot exercise their rights is not a truly democratic society.
And my final priority will be, of course, social mobility. I am not the first President to come from the manual working classes. Nor the first child of immigrants. Nor indeed the first to have a regional accent, But as the Times Profile pointed out it was a heck of a lot easier in the days when tuition fees were free, I got a full grant and could work on the Post at Christmas and the Buses in Summer. Not only did I not have student debt. I left University with about £200 in the bank.
It is vital that we ensure that no one with the ability to do the work that we do, as solicitors, is precluded from entering the profession, by their origins, by cost or any other barrier.
There are great staff here with loads of ability and experience. In Christina and Simon I have a powerful team of Office Holders.
It is a massive honour and privilege to be given the opportunity to lead this great profession.
Two years ago I promised, that if elected, I would work tirelessly to ensure a bright future for this profession: I renew that promise today.
And finally. Perhaps two of the finest words in the English language. Certainly two of the most welcome
I know that the staff call these the Oscar speeches so I shall end, appropriately, with a ten minute list of people who I need to thank and probably burst into tears at some stage.
That wouldn’t be fair. You know who you are.
But one person I have to thank by name is my wonderful wife Clare without whom achieving this role would have been absolutely impossible.
You cannot imagine the bad jokes that she has deleted from this and many other speeches. Not to mention the number of white shirts she has washed and ironed.
I hope you will all join us in the Reading Room afterwards for a cup of tea and possibly something a little stronger.
We are Solicitors, we are officers of the court, every single day we oil the wheels of justice and business in this country.
Listen for the drumbeat.
See the line of sight.
Lets get up on the rooftops and shout it loudly.
We are solicitors and we are very, very proud of it