Presidential Year Plan 2020-21

This page sets out David Greene's Presidential Year Plan for 2020-2021.

It will be a pleasure and privilege to serve the solicitors’ profession as its 176th President, to be part of and represent the profession. 2020-2021 will be a year of significant change for both the profession and our wider society.

At the beginning of the new Law Society year it has become common that the new President sets out their plans and goals for the year. These sit alongside the Law Society’s Business Plan and its themes and priorities.

Perhaps placing too much emphasis on planning at this time is a risky task. We need to go back to basics and emphasise the underlying themes that direct us in whatever is thrown at the solicitor profession: emphasising the rule of law, access to justice and the need for and place of a strong, independent and diverse legal profession. It is those basics that guide us in whatever is thrown at us.

In my own work both here and abroad I have sought to maintain those principles in representing those seeking to challenge and question events, agendas and processes set by others.

I am but one in 190,000 solicitors and we all contribute to the workings of business and society meeting individual needs in buying or renting our homes, in consumer issues, in family issues, in environmental issues, in mergers and acquisitions, and in corporate finance. The list is long indeed. This is why I am immensely proud to be part of and to represent our profession. It is an honour.

All across the country, solicitors have continued to work tirelessly for their clients, whether that be in private practice or working in-house, to ensure the highest standard of service throughout the coronavirus crisis.

This will be a year of challenge as society looks to cope with the changes that coronavirus has brought to our ways of working and our economy. The Law Society will be there to support the solicitor profession through these challenging times.

The qualities and contribution we provide are also reflected in lawyers round the world. In many countries lawyers are targeted and persecuted for upholding core principles that they share with us, such as the rule of law. The voice of the Law Society is an all-important international instrument to fight persecution and to speak for our fellow lawyers.

My vision is to see our profession reflecting the diversity of the society it serves, to be recognised for its contribution its communities and the economy and ensure that it can continue to represent and assist those in need and facing legal challenges.

The office holders have started an initiative to address the real diversity and discrimination issues faced by many in practice including those seeking to join the profession.

Round table discussions have started to gather data on the experience of those from BAME communities. Also, in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, we are highlighting issues faced by those from the black community and seeking to address the practicalities of ensuring all have an equal chance to qualify, progress and to lead in the legal profession.

Those round tables will continue this autumn and I will be working with fellow office holders to achieve change together.

In addition as we seek to get back to the workplace we know that working from home has highlighted issues of mental health for our members. The Law Society’s role is to ensure all feel safe and well with and within the profession and we have a number of initiatives to achieve that goal.

Context and main themes

The coronavirus pandemic has only intensified the role we must continue to play in safeguarding the profession’s role in upholding the rule of law in England and Wales and throughout the world. As we look to return, restart and recover, the Law Society must continue to be unified in its aims and to represent our members and their goals.

Predictions are risky but the pandemic will dominate events here and abroad. Our approach is guided by the principles I mention, the rule of law, access to justice, and strong and independent legal profession.

We have already seen the huge economic impact of coronavirus on the legal services sector across the broad spectrum of our work. Certain parts of the sector however, such as housing and criminal defence, have been particularly hard hit.

It remains to be seen what the autumn brings as furloughing and other support ends but in the last six months the Law Society, office holders and staff have really stepped up to the mark and done a really great job in assisting and representing the profession. The next period will throw up different challenges and I and the Law Society will be there for our membership.

Coronavirus has also had a significant impact on our justice system. We have throughout worked with the judiciary, courts and tribunal service, the legal aid agency and the Ministry of Justice to meet the challenges. In the next year the Ministry of Justice is likely to report on several significant reviews including the crucial review into sustainability of criminal legal aid and reviews into both the civil and criminal legal aid means tests during my presidential year.

The UK government has also promised to launch a Royal Commission on criminal justice. The UK government’s court modernisation programme will continue to bring significant changes to the operation of our justice system, and review how the courts should change in the longer term.

Last year, the Law Society welcomed the Thomas Commission’s long-term vision for the future of justice in Wales.

As the body of Welsh law grows, it is important that due consideration is given to the distinct needs of the Welsh public and the legal profession as they seek to ensure their businesses remain vibrant and sustainable in the post-COVID period. We will see the launch of the Law Council for Wales.

The constitutional framework and the rule of law has and will continue to face challenges. Brexit and the coronavirus have thrown up challenges to our framework and its dynamics. The UK government looks set to inquire into those dynamics. We have just seen the establishment of an independent inquiry into judicial review. The Law Society has a core role in that debate and will take a full part in it.

Having had such involvement it may be ironic that my presidency will see the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020 and the implementation of new trading relationships with jurisdictions round the world.

Negotiations on the UK–EU future relationship will be finalised, at least in the transition period, and be underway with non–EU jurisdictions. I have already had a close involvement in the process and we will continue to press for certainty on legal services, enable mutual market access and encourage close civil and criminal judicial co-operation.

Further details of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination will be announced and its implementation is planned for September 2021. The regulation of the profession will continue to be under the microscope.

As Council recently discussed it is likely to face greater challenge from unregulated providers of legal services. New legislation on anti-money laundering will be bedding in and the profession will be continuing to play its role in tackling economic crime.

These milestones and external events will bring significant change. The Law Society, represented by the staff and volunteers, will be at the forefront in preparing the profession for these opportunities and challenges.

My presidency will focus on ensuring that we respond to these changes as one common community, that our voice is heard and the UK’s commitment to the rule of law both nationally and internationally is maintained. We already have good contact and relationships with the UK and Welsh governments and will seek to build on these.

The Law Society’s business plan sets out key issues for the Law Society to represent and support the solicitor profession for 2020/21. In particular, I will seek to amplify the themes close to my heart and practice during my year in office:

  • upholding the rule of law both nationally and internationally
  • maintaining and enhancing access to justice
  • ensuring the economic value and viability of solicitors to maintain a strong and independent profession

The Law Society’s passionate and knowledgeable volunteer community, of which we are all part, works together with our well-established corporate workforce to represent and support our profession.

Our policy committees have contributed immensely to meeting the recent challenges. As we face a series of challenges in 2020-21, it will be more important than ever that our staff and volunteer community continue to work to shared goals and within the Law Society’s values of clarity, trust, respect and excellence.

Overview

The rule of law is under constant challenge even in advanced democracies. Over recent years we have witnessed widespread challenges to public confidence in institutions, the administrative and political process and experts.

Coronavirus, and institutional responses to it, are and will continue to test the strength of the rule of law and it is therefore more important than ever that people can rely on a trusted group of professionals who protect our rights and freedoms and fearlessly safeguard the rule of law on a daily basis.

Legal professionals fight the corner of their clients, whether vulnerable individuals or global giants, all while serving the public interest. We help businesses, charities, and individuals access justice and enforce their rights. If rights cannot be enforced they may as well not exist.

Lawyers, judges and prosecutors play an essential role in upholding the rule of law and separation of powers the world over.

We are the ‘canaries in the mine’, warning in advance of dangers to our democratic institutions, and are often among the first to see and feel the effects of the erosion of the rule of law, either through interference with the independence of the legal profession or as legal representatives of our clients suffering at the hands of rogue entities.

The Law Society has an important role to play in safeguarding the rule of law and promoting human rights at home and abroad. This is the focus of our rule of law theme as set out in 2020-21 business plan.

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

  • maintaining the rule of law, access to justice and the protection of individual rights as core principles in our constitutional framework
  • monitoring the impact of emergency legislation on vulnerable people in our society
  • supporting lawyers across the world who are under threat due to their commitment to the system of justice
  • ensuring that the profession and the judiciary reflect the modern world we live in and that discriminatory barriers to entry are removed to encourage and enhance all people of talent
  • promoting the provision of public legal education to improve citizens’ ability to understand how the law affects them

Deliverables

During my presidency, I will focus on promoting the importance of the rule of law both domestically and internationally. Working with staff and volunteers, I will ensure the Law Society contributes to the review into judicial review and other panels that are set up to review elements of our constitution.

I will ensure that solicitor’s voices are heard in constitutional reforms and we are able to influence proposals to update the Human Rights Act and plans to legislate around armed forces and the law.

I will support the organisation’s work in analysing the impact of the Coronavirus Act 2020 and subsequent legislation on access to justice and the rights of vulnerable people. We will seek to influence the reviews of the Act and to ensure that emergency measures are removed or repealed when no longer justified.

I will support the organisation’s international rule of law programmes and particularly our work on supporting lawyers at risk who are being targeted simply for acting in the public interest or for acting in controversial cases or representing certain clients.

We will continue to work reactively to incidents in which lawyers are targeted by UK governments or others, but also proactively to address the structural causes that contribute to these lawyers being at risk.

We will work to monitor the situation of lawyers and human rights defenders – to the extent that they fulfil the functions of lawyers without being formally registered as such – and make representations to international institutions such as the United Nations.

We will continue to collaborate with a network of NGOs, international institutions, state agencies, and bar associations to protect those at risk.

We will also continue to support solicitors who wish to follow a judicial career, and work with other bodies and stakeholders to reduce barriers affecting those seeking to apply, particularly from applicants from an ethnic minority background.

We will aim to strengthen our understanding of the aspirations and experiences of our members relating to judicial roles, and provide resources and advice that could assist them in preparing for the application process, including through shadowing opportunities and networking with sitting judges. 

Overview

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has brought an already struggling justice system to breaking point. The backlog in the courts, particularly for criminal trials, is seeing justice being delay for victims and the accused but in civil courts is also stopping people from getting on with their lives.

The economic recovery of coronavirus will be with us for many years. However, it is important to remember that our recovery from coronavirus cannot be simply economic; we need to recover socially too.

In respect to the legal sector, that means taking the opportunity to rebuild our society by guaranteeing proper access to justice for all, and ensuring that our communities emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient than before.

Currently over a third of the population lives in local authorities which do not have a single housing legal aid provider. Meanwhile more than 37 million people in England and Wales live in a local authority area without a single community care legal aid provider, including over 7.5 million people aged 65 and over.

Relatedly, access to justice requires the existence of the legal aid sector, which provides affordable advice to those most in need. But with many legal aid firms already in crisis before the pandemic, and pushed even closer to the brink since, unless urgent steps are taken now it is far from certain that there will even be a legal aid sector to speak of in the years to come.

The pandemic has also led to new technologies being tried and tested out of necessity – some of this will lead to positive change for those seeking justice. However, it is important that steps are taken to analyse the overall impact of new ways of working on justice outcomes before they become a permanent fixture in our system.

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

  • ensuring our civil and criminal justice systems are adequately funded by the UK government, with particular emphasis on legal aid and civil justice reforms
  • influencing reforms to the courts, both ongoing and in response to COVID-19, to ensure access to justice and represent the interests of solicitors and their clients
  • ensuring that reforms to the justice system in Wales maintain or enhance access to justice for Welsh people
  • shaping the debate on the use of technology to make the justice system more accessible

Deliverables

I will spearhead the Law Society’s ongoing work to ensure that legal aid firms are supported throughout the coronavirus pandemic and on the review of sustainability of criminal legal aid.

I will ensure that the Law Society fully engages with the UK government’s Royal Commission on the criminal justice process and ensure that solicitors’ voices are heard in relevant reviews on eligibility for legal aid, release under investigation and disclosure.

The UK government will continue to implement its review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO). We will continue to participate in the Legal Support Advisory Group to guide the ongoing consultations and pilots stemming from this. I will continue to call for the widening of the scope of eligibility for legal aid for early legal advice, and to tackle existing and emerging legal aid deserts.

The UK government will also continue its implementation of civil justice reforms on whiplash and the small claims track for personal injury. I have worked in policy development in this area of practice in the Rules Committee and Civil Justice Council for most of my career.

The Law Society will continue to seek to ensure that these changes do not increase further barriers to justice and continue to support practitioners who will be impacted by these reforms and assist them during this time of transition. Likewise, we will support our members through potential costs reforms and endeavour to ensure that solicitors working in civil justice are paid reasonably for the work they do.

I will support the work of our Wales Office and Welsh members as they seek to have their voices heard in the review of tribunals in Wales. I will also work with our Welsh members as the Welsh Government takes forward the views of the Thomas Commission and ensure we play a significant role in the establishment and running of the Law Council for Wales.

If justice is to be devolved in Wales, we will seek to ensure that:

  • the ability of solicitors of England and Wales to practise across the border without restriction is maintained
  • the current single regulatory framework for solicitors across England and Wales is preserved
  • the Welsh Government is provided with the necessary financial resources to enable it to deliver effective and high quality justice policy

Overview

Solicitors make a significant contribution to the economy and our society. From my practice, I have seen the benefit that the law can bring to people at difficult times in their life, even when they come up against the largest institutions.

It is important that the Law Society and the profession promote the important role solicitors play in people’s everyday lives such as their interactions with the police, with social services, employers, landlords and in e-commerce.

Solicitors are bound by high professional standards meaning we can be relied upon to do the best for our clients, protect their interests and give high quality advice to support their lives and businesses. This will be crucial in the economic and societal recovery in the coming years.

However, in recent months, many law firms have faced significant hardship when it comes to cashflow, and the economy as a whole facing recession in the coming months. The challenges presented by coronavirus to our sector will not go away until there is a widespread rollout of a public health solution to the virus such as a vaccine. The economic pressures on our sector and the wider economy will likely remain for several years.

The Law Society recently launched its Reset, Resilience, Recovery campaign through which we are aiming to support solicitors and firms to reset their practices to best serve their clients; help solicitors and firms to increase business resilience; and empower solicitors and firms to drive the recovery after coronavirus.

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

  • engaging with members, firms and in-house departments to understand the barriers to recovering and growing
  • supporting law firms to manage the impact of the current economic climate
  • ensuring the UK and Welsh Government understand the role the legal services sector can play in role in the economy recovery and supports it accordingly
  • championing lawtech adoption to improve productivity

Deliverables

During my presidency I will support the Law Society’s Reset, Resilience and Recovery campaign which seeks to support solicitors and firms to reset their practices to best serve their clients; increase business resilience; and empower solicitors and law firms to drive the recovery after coronavirus.

I will work to position the solicitor profession and the legal services sector within the context of wider society, and demonstrate to the UK and Welsh governments and other decision-makers the important role our profession will play in helping society return to normal, restarting local and national economies and driving the long-term economic growth and social recovery we will need once the pandemic has passed.

I will ensure that the Law Society continues to provide bespoke advice and tools for our individual members and firms as they look to return to the office, restart their business and recover from the pandemic.

We will work with the UK government and others to maintain the attractiveness of England and Wales as a base for lawtech start-ups and scale ups and for investment in legal technology.

We will support the profession in seizing the opportunities new technologies present by providing guidance on how technology can be used to support their practice, firm management, in house team and clients through training and guidance.

More broadly I seek to challenge some negative perceptions of solicitors that still remain. I will promote the work of the profession to external stakeholders in the UK and Welsh governments, the UK Parliament and Senedd, 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.

The presidential year ahead is an opportunity for the Law Society to showcase the work of its common community of volunteers, the membership and staff in representing and supporting solicitors, and being an effective voice for the profession and the rule of law in the public interest.