Opportunities for the City
When I joined the Law Society Council in 2004 a number of City colleagues asked why that was, because "the Law Society is only interested in small firms", but then at my first Council meeting I was told "the Law Society is only interested in the City".
The reality, as I quickly found, as befits an organisation which represents some 160,000 members in England and Wales, is that we support and fight the corner of solicitors external, internal, private, public, local government and commercial, from the single practitioner to the global international giant.
Indeed, the fact that the Law Society is everywhere is a strength for the benefit of the profession and the public. We act as a clearing house and convener for the exchange of ideas and best practice in areas from money laundering to robotics, from gender diversity to Brexit, from personal injury to M&A.
We are also an equalizer in seeking to ensure that those individuals and firms less resourced than others can rely on the Law Society to level the playing field for them.
And when it comes to the City in particular, the challenges and opportunities we face in relation to the recruitment and retention of talent and the provision of an excellent service are remarkably similar to those in the profession around the country; the difference often just being one of scale.
We do, however, have the additional challenge in that there is often the perception that the success of the City is achieved without a substantive contribution to the public good, apart from the payment of large amounts of taxes on large amounts of profit. We need to ensure that the work and value of the City is broadcast more visibly and relevantly.
Just a few examples:
The City is often criticised for recruiting students principally from our top universities. The right reaction is not, however, to limit such applications, which perversely would affect those from backgrounds who are not privileged and who have strained every sinew to get into these institutions. Instead we need to be seen to be out there at a wide range of universities across England and Wales encouraging diverse talent to apply and welcoming those applications when they arrive.
There is no point in training talented young solicitors and introducing them to clients, only for them to leave after a few years. Often this will be for understandable reasons as they leave London or decide to join a boutique firm.
But the findings from recent Law Society roundtable discussions, involving large numbers of male and female solicitors from the City, illustrate that much more needs to be done to keep diverse talent in our firms and to make clear in everything we do that life as a partner in a City firm does not require all else to be sacrificed.
There is often the perception that City firms are inflexibly wedded to the hourly rate, that hourly rates are too high and not tied to value. In practice so much of work today is done on all kinds of models, sometimes without any relationship to the chargeable hour. Billing arrangements are designed to fit a particular client and case. Modern project management and technology is used to increase efficiencies and lower cost, while maintaining the high level of expertise which clients expect in an increasingly complex legal and regulatory environment.
Given the fees we charge it is, however, incumbent on us to train our lawyers and partners to provide, not just high quality legal advice, but a service which starts with the question "What are you seeking to achieve?" and is then delivered by a combination of expert human beings putting themselves in the shoes of the client and understanding their business and 'robots' performing machine functions where there is no need to have any knowledge of the individual client or its business drivers.
Demonstrating our value to society
Huge numbers of pro bono hours are put in by individuals across the City but we need to do much more to explain publicly what we are doing, for whom and for what public benefit.
Everywhere I go I find City solicitors working in law clinics, supporting the parents of autistic children, advising refugees, helping ex-offenders and working on conservation and sustainability projects. Solicitors in City firms have all kinds of opportunities to work on issues facing society which have nothing to do with their day job.
Finally, no piece would be complete without a mention of Brexit. A curious side benefit is that the reputation of the City has been much enhanced by our reaction to the uncertainties following the Referendum.
The City's response has been to help the government, in particular the Ministry of Justice, not only to seek to preserve practice rights and to ensure that the strengths of English and Welsh law and our jurisdiction continue to flourish, but to help navigate the complexities of unravelling a regime built up over decades.
The success of the City as a global business centre of choice owes much to the strength and expertise of our law firms, and the success of the City in a post-Brexit world will need top-class legal expertise to hold it all together and maintain our global standing.
In my presidential year I intend to do all I can to blow the trumpet of a solicitors' profession which is the lynchpin for the Rule of Law in England and Wales, and the City is a fine example.