It is a great privilege to serve as the 175th president of the Law Society of England and Wales. I certainly could not have imagined doing so when I took my first nervous steps into the reception of the firm then known as Clifford Turner, having navigated my way past the travel agency which occupied the ground floor.
When I speak to newly qualified solicitors, I remind them that the very fabric of society depends on legal rights and obligations, benefits and burdens, being validly created and effectively enforced. I tell them that at the heart of every right and obligation is the law maker, the law adviser and the law enforcer, and that the role of the solicitor in upholding the rule of law is perhaps more important than ever before.
Amidst the widespread collapse in public confidence in institutions, politicians and experts, it is vital that we promote the role of solicitors in upholding the rule of law, sustain an open profession and jurisdiction, and build a top-class profession in which all solicitors the best services to their clients. These are the tenets that will guide my presidency.
As the body representing solicitors and with a statutory public interest role, part of the Law Society’s overarching purpose is to safeguard the rule of law in the best interests of the public and the client. And although we are the Law Society of England and Wales, we regard our responsibility for standing up for the rule of law as extending beyond our shores – by intervening in jurisdictions where lawyers have been persecuted for just doing their job. We lobby international institutions, like the EU, to ensure the rule of law is sacrosanct in them also.
Closer to home, our criminal justice system is crumbling due to many years of underinvestment by governments of every hue. Its deficiencies impact the accused, the victims, and the professionals who work hard across the system. We have been campaigning for years, highlighting the fast-falling numbers of criminal law solicitors, the spread of advice deserts, and the increase in litigants in. The direction of travel does seem to be changing, with a post-LASPO review cash injection, and more reviews on the way.
Last month, we launched the ‘Women in Law Pledge’, an initiative supported by the Ministry of Justice and led by the Law Society, the Bar Council, CILEx, and leading firms and businesses from across the profession. As we celebrate of 100 years of women being able to enter the legal profession, I am proud to be taking the baton from Christina to ensure that the abilities of men and women are recognised throughout the profession.
Finally, it is a matter of great pride that our legal profession and jurisdiction are among the most open in the world, and we are glad to play host to a thriving international legal community. Some 200 foreign law firms have offices in the UK and almost 6000 of our members work in foreign owned firms or abroad – including many in Brussels.
With the backdrop of the UK’s changing relationship with the EU, it remains crucial that we seek to attract the best talent from across the globe and that we are able be part of cross-jurisdictional teams, resolving cross-jurisdictional issues. We must, therefore, continue to make the case to the new prime minister that the UK should seek to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
Trusting for the moment that there will be a deal, I will seek to persuade the new government that this must include market access for legal services and civil judicial co-operation mechanisms which allow consumers, families and businesses to gain access to justice across borders.
Whether the UK leaves with or without a deal, there will be a need for the UK to establish a new relationship with the EU. I will continue to engage with my counterparts in EU bars and law societies to maintain and develop further a close relationship in the interests of the rule of law and our respective professions.
Over my year in office, I will work tirelessly to bring these strands of work together, ultimately ensuring that the solicitors’ profession is known for delivering the highest quality legal services and upholding the rule of law. We are the legal backbone of society, and must remain so.
President of the Law Society of England and Wales