Law Society of Scotland Annual Conference
27 September 2017
On September 19, I made the trip to Edinburgh to attend the Law Society of Scotland’s Annual Conference. For those who have any ties to the legal industry, this is a great learning experience and the chance to listen to seminars given by those at the peak of their field. The theme of this year’s conference was “For The Greater Good” and there were a number of speakers who were keen to stress this element of the profession.
The legal landscape, in recent years, has been defined by a series of uncertainties: be that political, economic or, indeed constitutional. There have been issues of trade unionism, data protection and Brexit shaping the way in which the legal sector operates. Most of the time, it has had to be very reactive. Although, as the conference confirmed, many firms feel like these uncertainties have bred a ‘wait and see’ mindset – which has its own complications.
The keynote speakers on the day included the Rt Hon Lord Carloway, the Rt Hon James Wolffe QC, Burness Paull Chairman Phillip Rodney and Olympic gold medallist Dame Katherine Grainger. For me, the rower and academic provided the quote of the day: “Lawyers do a wonderful job for the greater good, yet they don’t go out and collect gold medals … But they should.”
For me, two particular seminars topics stood out – that of Brexit and that of Access to Justice. In terms of the latter, there was huge discussion surrounding helping vulnerable people gain access to the same level of legal assistance as more affluent members of society. Jolyon Maugham QC, of the Good Law Project, spoke about using crowdfunding programmes in order to provide assistance.
Interestingly, many attendees who have been in practice for at least twenty years, spoke about how pro bono work made up the bulk of their caseloads. Legal aid cuts, court closures and an increase in court fees are making it increasingly difficult for lower income households to access the legal system fairly.
In terms of Brexit negotiations, there was one major question posed: Will the UK have agreements in place in time for the March 2019 deadline? The general consensus seemed to be that the whole process of negotiation was in too much disarray for there to be ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. Many firms had no idea how the incorporation of European law into UK legislature would impact on their capabilities.
As I previously stated, many people were waiting to be told what to do but, since negotiations continue to falter and halt, this is only adding to the sense of confusion pervading the whole process. There were also further discussions as the impact that Brexit could have on employee levels (as immigration rulings alter) and the prices of importing or exporting raw materials and goods.
The conference gave me plenty of food for thought as the legal sector seeks to forge ahead and continue to work ‘for the greater good’.
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Written By Meena Bahanda