Building pride in the profession
Robert Bourns reflects on the challenges faced by the profession this year and looks ahead to highlighting solicitors' role and contribution to the public
Christmas – the season for festive spirit, mince pies, bright lights, and reflections. As we do not yet have a way of transmitting fruit-filled pastries through electronic media, I hope you’ll accept my reflections on the year just gone, and the year to come, as a festive substitute.
Brexit has, of course, dominated the year for us all. Understanding and articulating the priorities for the legal sector and our clients in the upcoming Brexit negotiations has been an important part of the Law Society’s efforts.
The work has allowed us to engage with ministers and senior officials as they shape the government’s Brexit approach, and they have proven very open to the needs and concerns we have put before them, emphasising the significant economic contribution made by the legal sector.
The other constant throughout this year has been taking a stand for the principles we hold dear – for example, when government proposals for new surveillance powers threatened to undermine legal professional privilege.
Through advocacy, often behind closed doors, we persuaded the government to improve protections or dampen intrusive elements in the Investigatory Powers Act and in forthcoming tax avoidance proposals.
Throughout 2016 we’ve also been speaking out against the steady but devastating reduction in access to justice, whether through legal aid cuts, massive hikes in court and tribunal fees, the list goes on... If we let the government take these steps, the quality of our justice system slowly erodes away and justice itself slips out of many people’s reach. The prejudice to ordinary citizens when there is no longer a credible threat of litigation to back a legitimate claim is real, as too is the less obvious effect this has on social cohesion.
Looking ahead to 2017, Brexit is clearly set to dominate the year, with the Supreme Court’s ruling likely to start us off on a boisterous note in January.
Following the irresponsible reaction from some parts of the media to the High Court ruling, the Law Society will be watching and will be ready to respond robustly in defence of our independent judiciary and the rule of law.
2017 will also hold exciting opportunities for the profession. One of my key areas of focus as president has been building pride in the profession, both in the way we and others speak about solicitors, and in the way the public understands our role and contribution. You will see this in our ‘solicitor brand’ campaign, where we will be highlighting to the public how speaking to a solicitor early can help to resolve problems they experience.
Our work to promote England and Wales as the premier international legal market, and open new opportunities at home and abroad for the profession, will also nurture this pride and continue to yield results and open new frontiers for solicitors across England and Wales.
So to everyone in the solicitor profession, please reflect on the great job you do for all your clients and enjoy a happy holiday season. I look forward to working with you all again in 2017.