• Sundeep Bhatia

SUMMARY OF LAW SOCIETY COUNCIL MEETING HELD ON 28TH October

As some of you will know I am one of three Law Society Council Members representing the Ethnic Minority Solicitors community. The following is a summary of the Law Society Council Meeting I attended on Wednesday 28th October.As the Council met, it remembered one of the longest-serving Council members, Robin ap Cynan, who had recently died. In quarter of a century of loyal service to the Society and the profession, Robin made major contributions in a diverse range of areas including the Wales Committee and ensuring that the interests of practitioners in Wales were well represented, as well as family law and mediation.

Strategy development and budget setting Following discussions in Council in September, work continued to refine the Law Society’s strategy, three-year plan, and one-year business plan. Council formally signed off these documents in October, and the strategy and three-year plan will be publicly launched in November. The one-year business plan is an internal document focused on the detailed activities of each team at the Law Society. The strategic aims are: • We will represent solicitors by speaking out for justice and on legal issues • We will promote the value of using a solicitor at home and abroad • We will support solicitors to develop their expertise and their businesses, irrespective of whether they work for themselves, in-house or for a law firm. These aims are supported by our shared vision for the profession, and by our commitment to spending our members’ money as effectively and efficiently as we can. The Council also confirmed that a review will be undertaken to establish whether the Society’s governance is fit for the purpose of delivering the agreed strategy. Further information will follow in subsequent updates. The Council also approved the budgets for the Law Society, the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority, and the shared services provided by Corporate Solutions. This confirmed the decision in July that solicitors’ practising certificate fees are unchanged from last year.

Key activities on major issues reported to Council Presidential activity The President presented an update on his first 100 days in office, mentioning meetings with members across the country as well as welcoming international delegates for the Opening of the Legal Year. He has been proactively using social media, including his Twitter channel and three monthly video updates, to improve communication and stakeholder engagement. In September, he launched the Law Society’s business and human rights engagement programme in London and Cardiff, as well as addressing the issue in his keynote speeches at the Opening of the Legal Year and the International Association of Young Lawyers. He has also taken several opportunities to use public platforms to promote the value of the legal services market to the wider economy, and to support the Society’s wider campaign to raise the profile of pro bono work undertaken by solicitors. The party conference season was a chance to engage with decision makers on a range of topics, notably access to justice.

Criminal legal aid Council heard about the very substantial continuing concerns over the tender process, and over the impact on significant numbers of the profession. In addition to raising these concerns at the highest political levels, support measures are being made available for criminal practitioners who have been unsuccessful in securing a contract.

Criminal advocacy consultation It was also noted that the government’s consultation on criminal advocacy raises a number of questions, including whether there should be a statutory ban on referral fees, and, critically, whether the instruction of in-house advocates by solicitors constitutes a conflict of interest. We are in active discussion with the Ministry of Justice, and have also contacted local law societies asking them and their members to respond direct to the consultation.

Court fees and court closures Council heard about the Society’s robust responses to the government’s proposals for further increases in court and tribunal fees, and to the introduction of the criminal court fee charge. We have also made a substantial submission on court closures, informed by over 800 member responses and with a special focus on helping members campaign against closures in their own areas.

Consumer credit regulation Council was pleased to hear that the SRA has announced that it will continue to be a designated professional body for regulating consumer credit activity, thus accepting the Law Society’s strong representations and avoiding the need for dual regulation on the part of many firms.

Legal Practice Technologies (LPT) Council was informed that we are continuing to work with LPT on Veyo so that we can ensure that the product has the right level of functionality and usability before we launch – we will not launch the product until we are satisfied as we recognise that the product must meet our members’ expectations and serve them well.

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