Monday, June 09, 2008

Extra term of Law Society President made little difference to standards

Oh how the Law Society of Scotland loves to shout about what it does, or rather what it doesn't do.

For the last year or so, the Law Society has spent most of the time trying to prevent the opening of the Scottish legal services market, by fair means or foul.

Delay, political arm twisting, the usual threats, even a badly organised legal aid strike did not endear lawyers to the Scots public very much ... so its back to the trusted fictional accounts of what the legal profession does best in Scotland under the leadership of the Law Society of Scotland .... nothing !

The Scotsman reports :

Jennifer Veitch: President's extra time adds stability in a turbulent year

By Jennifer Veitch

IT'S that time of year when solicitors can usually expect to say goodbye to the old, and welcome a new president of the Law Society.

And, under normal circumstances, the freshly-elected president would be just taking over the reins at Drumsheugh Gardens.

But, following the sudden resignation of John MacKinnon a few months into the job last summer, this year's man has already got his feet well under the table.

Richard Henderson has had an extra nine months to get the ball rolling on all the various strands of work that are going to shape the future of the profession.

There has been no shortage of tasks in his presidential in-tray – the debate on alternative business structures (ABS), the ongoing consultation on standards, and the transition to the new Scottish Legal Complaints Commission are just a few of the top priorities.

So, is Henderson, and the fact that he has a longer presidential term, making any difference to the society?

So far, it would certainly seem so.

Since last summer there has been tangible progress, as the society has faced the economic and political realities of the ABS debate and is getting on with finding ways to make new business models work in practice.

Progress is well under way to sort out the nuts and bolts of handing over service complaints to the commission this October and, if all goes to plan, a new set of standards for the profession should be in place by the end of the year.

Of course, much more work remains to be done. The mechanics of regulating alternative business structures are far from clear, and the standards consultation could throw up more questions that need to be answered.

The transition to the new Complaints Commission – including collecting the annual levy from solicitors, as the society is now obliged to do – could yet prove rather tricky to manage.

The society also has many internal housekeeping issues to address – including the appointment of a new chief executive to take over from Douglas Mill, and moving out of its current headquarters.

Yet Henderson appears to have taken all these challenges in his stride, bringing some much needed stability and a fresh perspective to the job.

With a background in the civil service, he clearly understands the machinery of government, and relations with the Scottish Government are far more cordial than those enjoyed by the previous administration. When one in four solicitors now works in-house, it is makes sense for a former in-house lawyer to take a turn at the top job.

Henderson has provided a steady hand at the helm, with a dry sense of humour – in this month's Law Society Journal he cites his interests as "golf and staying alive" – leavening a no-nonsense pragmatism.

To be fair to past society presidents, it should be kept in mind that Henderson is recently retired, and can afford to devote the time to the post that practising solicitors, no matter how committed, have simply not had at their disposal.

Henderson may turn out to be a hard act to follow, and he has been at pains to point out that he does not think that "the example I have set has to be replicated".

He told the Journal: "It would be terrible if anybody thought that they could not take on that kind of role unless they were able to commit full-time to it."

But perhaps his contribution thus far shows how much difference it really does make to have a leader who can devote themselves completely to the job.

At least Henderson still has a year to finish what he's started.

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