Presidential year plan 2021 to 2022

This page sets out I. Stephanie Boyce's presidential year plan for 2021 to 2022.

It is a great privilege to serve the solicitors’ profession as the 177th president of the Law Society.

The past year has been one of uncertainty for all of us, with the pandemic presenting challenges never before seen in the Law Society’s 196-year history.

Over the past year, the practice of law has adapted, evolved and changed to continue to deliver first-class advice, to ensure access to justice and to uphold the rule of law.

Wherever the profession has faced challenging circumstances, we have moved forward positively.

As we emerge from the coronavirus crisis, it is vital that the justice system emerges in a stronger position than before.

Throughout my presidential year, I will work alongside our members to ensure that access to justice and the rule of law are in clear focus, as the government and the wider justice system lift restrictions and we seek to learn the lessons as to which new ways of working should become permanent features.

Over the coming year, we expect progress to be made on the Ministry of Justice’s reviews of criminal legal aid, the sustainability of civil legal aid and the legal aid means test. These reviews are vital to the sustainability of a core part of our profession, which delivers advice and representation to so many. I will focus the efforts of my presidency to ensure that these reviews deliver positive outcomes for our members.

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, new technology (and utilising existing technology) has provided a glimpse of how the justice system could work in the future. It has also highlighted the many challenges that technology poses to the provision of legal advice and genuine access to justice.

During my presidential year, I will continue the debate on how geographical and digital barriers can be overcome.

Helping the public to understand legal issues and their rights is at the heart of what it means to be a solicitor.

Public legal education helps people to make better decisions, anticipate problems and play an active role in shaping the decisions that affect them. It can also ensure that when the public seek advice, they receive it from a practitioner who is qualified, insured and regulated.

During my term, I will support public legal education initiatives to raise awareness of the law and work together with partners, such as MPs and their case workers, in making the law accessible for all.

Social distancing restrictions and lockdown measures have changed the way the Law Society has engaged with and supported members over the past year, and there are many lessons we have learned on how we can broaden our engagement with members digitally which we must take forward.

Digital content, events and engagement through our Law Society Connect platform can open up the Law Society to our wide and diverse membership, and by the end of my presidential year I hope the Law Society can benefit from improved accessibility for members.

As president, I will stand up for our members and defend our profession against needless hostility. In recent years we have seen increasing attacks on the reputation and integrity of our profession. It is vital that we work to uphold the rule of law as a fundamental British value, and that solicitors and the legal sector can continue to do their job without fear of intimidation.

As president I will also engage with the government in a constructive but vigilant manner on proposed reforms to judicial review and the Human Rights Act. Any proposed changes must not weaken our rights and must be consistent with the rule of law.

As the first Black president of the Law Society, I know there is growing social opportunity in the legal profession. However, we still need to do more to challenge the stereotypes of what a solicitor should sound like, look like or where they should come from.

Black, Asian and ethnic minority solicitors continue to experience barriers within the profession. Having achieved greater diversity at entry level, we must address the retention and progression gaps mid-career.

Anyone with the necessary skills, knowledge and commitment to become a solicitor should be supported, enabled and empowered throughout their career. As president, it is my mission to leave the solicitor profession more diverse and inclusive than the one I entered.

We want to show that people from all walks of life and backgrounds can make valuable contributions and achieve success in our profession.

In my presidential year I will continue the Law Society’s work with law firms, legal businesses and other organisations to open up access to the profession to those from non-traditional backgrounds. With the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) due to start later this year, we must ensure that those seeking to join our profession are not financially excluded.

The pandemic has exposed further the need for a renewed focus on mental health and wellbeing. Throughout the pandemic, the Law Society has looked to support solicitors with a wellbeing and mental health hub, guidance on how to work remotely, and through providing careers resources.

Good mental health and wellbeing must be valued and encouraged, and where environments do not facilitate this, change must be realised.

As president, I will seek to improve our offer of resources, support and guidance to help our members with their mental health and wellbeing, and work with firms, legal businesses and organisations to ensure that they create a healthy workplace culture.

More can be done too to support in-house lawyers. Working in-house is a challenge very different from many others in the legal sector, and one in which support can often be harder to access.

Despite in-house lawyers making up almost 25% of our membership, I am the second in-house lawyer to become president of the Law Society – and I hope to use my position to reach out to in-house solicitors, to understand further the challenges they face and to deliver resources for in-house practitioners to advance their careers, to learn, and to access support as and when they need it.

While the process of Brexit has now concluded following the Trade and Cooperation Agreement late last year, challenges facing lawyers seeking to adjust to the new arrangements remain. As president I will continue our efforts to encourage our European partners to allow the UK to accede to the Lugano Convention.

England and Wales remains a global legal centre, an open and welcoming jurisdiction committed to excellence in legal services and to the rule of law.

As the UK seeks to secure new trade agreements with other countries, it is vital that legal services and market access are considered. I will act as a champion of our legal services sector, promoting our work to the public, to the wider sector, and to the government.

We live in challenging times, challenging for solicitors, challenging for our firms and organisations, and challenging for society.

This forthcoming year is an exciting opportunity for the Law Society, working hand-in-hand with our members and stakeholders, to shape the future of our profession in building a modern, strong, diverse and inclusive profession.

 

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