Law Society Council summary:8 and 9 July 2015
This was the last Council meeting chaired by Andrew Caplen during his term as President of the Law Society. A day and a half of Council business was followed by the Annual General Meeting of the Law Society, at the conclusion of which Jonathan Smithers took office as President for 2015-16, Robert Bourns became Vice President, and Joe Egan joined the office holder team as Deputy Vice President. Formal notification was given of all those elected and re-elected to Council this year. The AGM also formally accepted last year's report and accounts which may be found at:
The Law Society strategy
Council members had the opportunity to hear about ongoing progress on developing the Law Society's strategy. The strategy is intended to set the Society's corporate direction for the next three years and beyond, explaining our purpose, role and aims simply and in a jargon-free and engaging way, and demonstrating how we are putting our members at the heart of what we do. The strategy has a diverse range of audiences, including - besides our members - the general public, senior external stakeholders, and teams and staff within the Law Society. The content of the strategy will emphasise our role in protecting justice for everyone - raising awareness of the benefits of using a solicitor at home and abroad - and in supporting, promoting and representing the profession. The strategy will also focus on our role in influencing government and other key stakeholders to support the justice system for the benefit of our members and the general public. It will include sections on the contribution of the legal profession to the UK economy and internationally, and on future changes within the profession and the external environment that will generate challenges to our members. It will also be important that the finished strategy documents indicate the extensive range of consultation and research on which they are based.
Net Funding Requirement and Practising Fee
Council agreed the Net Funding Requirement (NFR - the amount to be raised from the practising fees) for the Law Society Group, for 2016. This needs to be done in order to set the level of the fees for next year, which will remain unchanged for individuals at £320. The total to be raised from entity fees from firms also remains unchanged, although levels paid by individual firms may change dependent on turnover.
Andrew Caplen took the opportunity to update the Council on key activities in the second half of his presidential term of office. As well as ongoing engagement with the profession across England and Wales, the President's activities continued to support the three key themes set out in his presidential plan.
- Access to Justice - a number of activities to promote the Law Society's manifesto for justice in the lead-up to the General Election in May, and with new solicitor MPs following the election; influencing work on criminal legal aid and court fees, including meetings with shadow spokesperson and the All Party Group on Legal Aid; and activities related to pro bono and domestic violence, including a collaboration with Oxfam's initiative of lawyers against poverty which led to a legal breakfast in June.
- Rule of Law - including full participation in a number of events marking the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, presenting a paper at the Commonwealth Law Conference in April entitled 'Protecting the Protectors: the role and responsibility of the legal profession in supporting the rule of law', hosting the Graham Turnbull essay prize giving for students who had written essays addressing the impact of how proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act could impact on the protection of human rights in Britain and round the world; and chairing a debate on 'Human Rights and the Theatre of War'.
- Diversity and Inclusion - including events targeted at introducing those interested in a legal career to the diverse routes of entry into the profession, opening a half-day seminar at the Law Society to mark International Women's Day, and attending an event in relation to Irwin Mitchell's mentoring scheme for ethnic minority staff.
Representing, promoting and serving the profession
Significant work reported to Council included:
- The first formal meeting between the President, Vice President, Chief Executive, and the newly appointed Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, at which we discussed the key themes in our Manifesto for Justice, including access to justice, the importance of the legal sector to the UK economy, and our concerns that recent court fee increases and legal aid cuts were damaging access to justice as well as the reputation of our legal jurisdiction abroad;
- Ongoing representations to the Ministry of Justice as to the adverse effect of the civil and criminal legal aid changes, and support to our members in responding to them;
- Taking forward initiatives from the Professional Indemnity Insurance stakeholder seminar chaired by Linda Lee with the SRA and representatives of brokers and insurers;
- The annual Presidents' and Secretaries' conference in May, which appears to have been successful in dealing with a number of live issues for those involved with local law societies;
- The focus on improvements to the Law Society's Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system which offer real potential to improve how we engage with our members in a targeted and relevant way.