Presidential Year Plan 2019-2020

This page sets out Simon’s Presidential Year Plan for 2019-2020.

Context and main themes

It is a great privilege to serve the solicitors’ profession as its 175th president. 2019-2020 will be a crucial year for our profession. During my presidency:

  • Global Britain. The country will likely leave the EU, although we do not know whether it will be a deal or not. Either way we there will be a need for the UK to establish a new relationship with the EU and this should aim to provide certainty to legal services and enable mutual market access.
  • Justice system. The implementation of the government’s long-awaited LASPO review recommendations continue to progress. The court reform modernisation programme will be approaching the half way point, and a review of criminal legal aid fees will produce its findings by mid-2020. The Commission on Justice in Wales will report soon, which is expected to propose changes to the structure of the English and Welsh legal system.
  • Regulation and legal services. We will hear more about how the Solicitors Qualifying Examination will be rolled out and the changes to the Handbook will begin to bed in. The interim report of the Mayson review will be published in September as part of the last phase of the review.

These milestones and external events will bring challenges but, more importantly, significant opportunities to the legal profession, and in these the Law Society can and will play a crucial part.

My presidency will focus on seizing these opportunities while lending efforts to deliver the Law Society’s overarching purpose of being the voice of solicitors, driving excellence in the profession and safeguarding the rule of law, in the best interests of the public and the client.

In this context, the main themes for my year in office will be:

  • promoting the role of solicitors in upholding the rule of law
  • sustaining an open profession and jurisdiction
  • building a top-class profession in which all solicitors, whether they work in a firm or in-house, offer the best services to their clients

The presidential plan emanates from the Law Society’s Business Plan and is fully aligned with it on its priorities, outcomes and resources.

Overview

The role of the solicitor in upholding the rule of law will be the central theme for my year in office, taking into account that the fabric of society depends on legal rights and obligations being validly created and effectively enforced.

As part of this theme, I will focus the efforts of the presidency on the following areas:

  • securing a fair and effective civil and criminal system of justice, including making the case for proper investment in the justice system, particularly of the courts and of legal aid
  • ensuring that the value and importance of solicitors providing independent legal advice is recognised in the HM Courts and Tribunals Service reform programme and the ongoing development of legal support following the “Way Ahead” document published by the MoJ in February 2019
  • increasing gender equality and improving diversity generally in the profession and the judiciary
  • helping solicitors stand up for human rights, ranging from the most vulnerable in society all the way through to international businesses seeking to compete on the world stage

Deliverables

The review of the implementation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) has reported and there are a number of ongoing consultations and pilots stemming from it are planned for the next year.

During my presidency I will support the Law Society’s work in influencing these to help increase access to justice, particularly on the legal aid means test and the importance of early legal advice from a qualified and regulated lawyer.

During my presidency I will lend my efforts to supporting the Law Society’s campaigns on the criminal justice system, aiming to put a stop to the looming crisis growing within it. My first step in this will be to launch a new report on the issue at the start of my presidency. I will ensure that the Law Society fully engages with the government’s criminal legal aid review, during which the organisation will be represented on the advisory panel.

I will also support our work on legal aid deserts, raising awareness of the areas of the country where there are most challenges on the provision of legal advice on housing law and a number of other areas including community care and family law.

The solicitors’ profession continues to be underrepresented in the judiciary. During the Presidential year I will continue to engage the judiciary, Judicial Appointments Commission and UK government to set out where the Law Society thinks barriers exist to solicitors entering the judiciary and make recommendations on how they can be overcome. We will continue to support those of our members who seek to enter the judiciary by providing guidance and training on the judicial application process.

At an international level, I will support the organisation’s human rights programme and particularly our work protecting lawyers at risk, giving visibility to colleagues in other jurisdictions.

Overview

As part of this theme, I will focus the efforts of the presidency on the following areas:

  • providing solicitors with the skills they need to provide a top-class service to clients throughout their careers
  • assisting solicitors in making the most of developments in legal technology (including artificial intelligence) and dealing with any associated ethical challenges
  • promoting the brand and value of solicitors as they compete with unregulated providers of legal services

Deliverables

During my year, we will support the profession with guidance on the new forms of legal technology available for firms and in-house teams to enable them to make properly informed decisions.

We will focus especially on in-house lawyers and equip them with the skills they need to get involved in governance issues where new technology (principally AI blockchain and data use) is concerned.

We will continue support the LawTech Delivery Panel and we will sit on its taskforces.

Together with our specialist committee on Technology and the Law we will continue to respond to consultations on regulation, data protection and the ethics of uses of emerging technologies at local and national level.

With changes in technology, a globally competitive job market and wider societal shifts in working practices, the Law Society can play an integral role in ensuring that our members continue to develop their skills and aptitude post-qualification. I will champion the role the Law Society can play for our members in supporting their career and professional development. This will focus on promoting our skills academy to our members and ensuring it identifies the needs of both current and future solicitors.

Changes to the SRA Handbook will still need to be considered by our firms, even as we continue to implement new rules on transparency. The Law Society will continue to provide practice notes and support for our members as they seek to implement new regulations in many areas of their businesses.

There are those who may regard the title of solicitor and possibly the solicitors' profession itself as getting in the way of the provision of legal services. The Law Society will take the opportunity of the Mayson review to make absolutely clear how dismantling the profession would devalue and undermine the rule of law and be contrary to the best interests of the public and clients.

Overview

As part of this theme, I will focus the efforts of the presidency on the following areas:

  • supporting solicitors as they deal with the associated challenges proposed by Brexit, including promoting England and Wales as the law and jurisdiction of choice
  • ensuring that the profession is open to high calibre candidates from all backgrounds
  • promoting the reputation of the profession with government and the media

Deliverables

Regardless of whether there is a deal or not, during my term in office we will focus on promoting the profession and ensuring that future UK trade relationships represent the needs of the legal services sector.

Continuing the Law Society’s influencing work with UK and EU stakeholders will be a central part of my presidency to ensure that the future relationship includes mutual market access and civil judicial co-operation. I will continue to engage with my counterparts in EU bars and law societies to set out the benefits of a close relationship for the rule of law and our respective professions.

Building on my work as an office oolder, I will continue to meet with members of the profession to ensure that the Society’s position on the future relationship reflects their need to continue trading in the EU. I will ensure that we are a source of intelligence to our members on how their trading position with the EU could change during the Brexit process.

The Law Society should be a clearing house of ideas on Brexit and legal services. To this effect, I will continue to sit as a member of the Brexit Law Committee and assist with the running of the secretariat.

During my presidency I will spearhead our work to promote the UK as a global legal centre through our campaign. I will represent the Society at English law days and international events to promote the benefits of English and Welsh law, our jurisdiction and our legal services providers.

The solicitors’ profession plays an integral role in our society and for our economy. However, there still remain some negative perceptions of the work we do. I will promote the work of the profession to external stakeholders in government, parliament, regulators and the media.

I will strongly advocate for the profession, by ensuring that unfair criticism does not remain unchallenged and that there is a positive narrative on the value of solicitors. This will involve making clear the work we do absolutely in the public good, including in pro bono and generally upholding the rule of law.

If the value which solicitors can add to those in trouble is not broadcast or understood there will be unmet legal need or legal need met by those who are not subject to our standards.

These are challenging times for solicitors and their clients.

The presidential year is an exciting opportunity for the Law Society to work in partnership with the members, helping them to attract and retain talent of all kinds, enhancing their skills, being their career guide and companion and with them fighting the corner of their clients, from the vulnerable to the global – all in the public interest.