I took office on 1 June 2020 and I believe it is fair to say that so far, my presidency has been like no other in the Society’s 70-year history. Whereas there would previously have been a modest physical hand-over ceremony between predecessor and successor during the May meeting of the Law Society Council, this took place – as every Council meeting has done since March – virtually; and my first few months, which in pre-COVID times would have taken me to conferences and on roadshows the length and breadth of the country meeting members from various constituencies – have largely been spent in front of my computer.
If you were inclined to try to attach some significance to this fact, you could say that this is entirely appropriate. While I hope that my presidency will come to be viewed in terms of what I achieve, rather than who I am, it is nonetheless true that as the embodiment of at least three of the key messages I aim to promote during my time in office, I’m not the stereotypical example of a lawyer. I do however want to see the profession remain viable through and out the other side of the current challenges and the following areas in my view can contribute hugely to that aim.
Diversity in the profession
One of my first responsibilities as president was to promote the Society’s One Profession Many Journeys campaign for schools and I couldn’t have been more delighted to do so. Although I was encouraged by my family to work hard and do well, a career in law was by no means a given. Add to that the fact that I am the first president to be an out member of the LGBTQ+ community, growing up there was a shortage of role models who I felt represented my own experiences and ambitions. This is why this is such an important campaign, particularly coupled with the work of our Lawscot Foundation, now supporting its fourth cohort of law students from less advantaged backgrounds through university. The legal profession is there for everybody and should be as diverse as the society that it represents.
Promoting good mental health in the profession
I am also the first law society president with a specialist background in mental health law. Promoting good mental health in the legal profession could not be more necessary in these uncertain times.
We hope that the work the Society started in partnership with See Me, the national programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination, in 2019 with a profession-leading survey of members and publication of an action plan will offer some support to our members. We have also increased and tailored the support we offer through our Lawscot Wellbeing initiative over the past few months.
Many of our members have experienced sharp and significant downturns across many areas of practice, which has had a direct and immediate effect on the viability of businesses. Additional worries about our families and the domestic strain and isolation that coronavirus has brought will undoubtedly take its toll on the mental health of many of our members. Although we are now seeing a return to at least some physical interactions with schools reopening and (at time of writing) more relaxed rules around contact with family and friends in place, it will be some time until matters stabilise into consistent ways of living.
Technology can be our friend
To help address the isolation we might all have been feeling, there are myriad technological solutions designed to bring us closer together. Although none of my contact with current and future members so far has been face-to-face, it has been varied, innovative and, bar the occasional frozen face and accidentally muted microphone, very successful. In July, I launched our first virtual summer school to people from a diverse range of backgrounds with an interest in the law, which allowed us to open up the opportunity to many more participants. This year we had more than 70 attendees from across the country when in the past physical events were only able to accommodate between 20 & 30 mainly from the central belt. Our High Street and Sole Practitioners Conference took place towards the end of July, again entirely remotely, and with the highest-ever attendance of close to 200 participants. For our in-house colleagues, we have launched the nominations for the now annual Rising Star award, which will be presented to the winner at our first ever In-house Virtual Legal Festival 2020 in October. We have engaged with external stakeholders and government to promote technological solutions to challenges such as signing documents and management of property transactions. We will continue this engagement to achieve change and challenge where appropriate.
A resilient profession
While there is no shortage of challenges facing Scottish solicitors, the impact of the pandemic has not been uniformly negative. From what I have seen so far, we continue to show our resilience, flexibility, and desire to deliver for our clients and make meaningful contributions to civil society. I look forward to seeing the new and interesting ways we continue to demonstrate the value of our professional badge for the remainder of my presidency and beyond.
A highly-respected solicitor of long-standing Amanda Millar has committed her legal career to ensuring that voices of the under-represented are heard, remaining true to her values of empathy, inclusion and robust challenge, which she brings to her role as President of the Law Society of Scotland. This reflects the importance of listening to and encouraging a diverse range of voices both within the profession and in the public they serve.
Amanda was the first solicitor in Scotland accredited by the Law Society in both Mental Health Law and Incapacity & Mental Disability Law and she brings this knowledge and experience to her role on the expert advisory group for the Centre for Mental Health and Incapacity Law Rights and Policy at Edinburgh Napier University.
Not afraid to ask questions others won’t, Amanda has applied this approach to a variety of roles throughout her career, most recently as associate then partner with McCash & Hunter Solicitors in Perth. As partner she was responsible for trainee recruitment and training. This has been a feature throughout her career, having been either a tutor or lecturer in law at the universities of Strathclyde, Glasgow Caledonian and Dundee.
As an SCVO Policy Committee Member and as board member then Chair of Mindspace Ltd Amanda has used her skills and experience to support organisations and policy discussions in the third sector. She was also the first non-executive Chair of Changing the Chemistry (SCIO) holding that post until September 2019.
Amanda was elected to the Law Society Council in 2010 and has served on a number of committees including seven years on the Client Protection Committee, two years on the Audit Committee, five years on Professional Practice and six years on the Mental Health and Disability sub-committee of which she is now an observer member. Amanda was also the Convener of the Rules, Waivers and Guidance Sub-Committee until taking up the role of President at the end of May 2020. Amanda continues to challenge herself by being the ‘non-techie in the room’ on the LawscotTech Advisory Board.
Amanda lives in Perthshire with her wife Joyce and their dog Darcy and when not leading the charge for the legal profession she enjoys cooking, eating and supporting Liverpool FC.