It is a great privilege to serve as the 176th President of the Law Society of England and Wales. In my year as President I want to ensure that we press forward our commitment to the rule of law; press forward on access to justice as part of that commitment; and press forward the value of a diverse profession nationally and internationally.
This is a uncertain time for the profession, and for the country, both in the effects of the pandemic but also from our departure from the EU at the end of the year.
In uncertain times, it is all the more important that people are able to turn to trusted professionals, who they know will advise them on their rights and their obligations, and give them a sense of surety. Solicitors have always been someone to turn to in a crisis, and I am proud of how solicitors have kept working throughout this pandemic to ensure the wheels of justice keep turning.
As President I will work tirelessly to ensure that those practitioners who need it most will get help and support from their Law Society. We are here for you, and we will do our utmost to give you the help you need.
Economic value and viability
Lawyers make a vast contribution to the economy – to the tune of about £60 billion annual GVA. However, in recent months, many law firms have faced significant hardship when it comes to cashflow, and the economy as a whole is facing recession.
The Law Society’s Reset, Resilience and Recovery campaign is one of our responses. Through it we are supporting solicitors and firms to reset their practices to best serve their clients; helping solicitors and firms to increase business resilience; and empowering solicitors and firms to drive the recovery after coronavirus. We aim to unleash the economic potential of our profession, to aid in a recovery that will help all.
Upholding the rule of law
The rule of law is under constant challenge even in advanced democracies, but it is a vital pillar of democracy.
Over recent years we have witnessed widespread challenges to public confidence in institutions, the administrative and political process and experts. Coronavirus, and institutional responses to it, will continue to test the strength of the rule of law and it is therefore more important than ever that people can rely on a trusted group of professionals who protect our rights and freedoms and fearlessly safeguard the rule of law on a daily basis.
It is the Law Society’s obligation to stand up for the rule of law, the independence of the profession and the ability of solicitors for their clients to do their day job without fear of intimidation, and we will never shy away from this duty, no matter the circumstances.
Access to justice
Just as important as the rule of law is the accessibility of the law. If you are unable to enforce your rights through the courts those rights may as well not exist.
We have worked tirelessly with the UK and Welsh Governments and agencies such as the police, the courts and legal aid authority over the past seven months to help maintain access to justice through this crisis. But the coronavirus pandemic has brought an already struggling justice system to breaking point.
The legal aid sector too is vital, providing affordable advice to those most in need. But unless urgent steps are taken now it is far from certain that there will even be a legal aid sector to speak of in the years to come.
I will continue the work of my predecessors in making this truth known to Government, in pursuit of the sustainable, durable, accessible justice system that people need and deserve.
Lawyers at risk
While much of my focus is on England and Wales, I feel I must also highlight the work the Law Society does to advocate on behalf of our fellow lawyers in other jurisdictions who face daily persecution and risk for simply doing their job. I want to ensure our voice is heard in their defence. We owe it to them that that happens.
I cannot overstate the privilege it is to have been chosen to serve solicitors as the 176th President of the Law Society. This profession – this dynamic, innovative, respected profession – have put their trust in me, and I will not let them down.