My year as President of Liverpool Law Society has ended today!
It is the season for Reviews of the Year. So here is the speech I gave to the AGM.
'Can I start by saying how proud I am, to have been president for the past year? My Association with Liverpool Law Society goes back to 1980 when I first qualified. I worked at the Vauxhall Law Centre for three years and was employed by Liverpool Law Society. That fact alone must give a unique place in the society’s history. It also demonstrates the Society’s long commitment to Access to Justice for ordinary people.
This has been a very busy year but also one of transition. We have seen the seeds planted for major changes across the profession most of which will have their full impact during my successor’s year. So good luck with that one Vice President.
But firstly let me report on what I have been up to. I have done 18 formal dinners. You don’t want to think about how many Crème Brûlées that is. I have been to Belfast, Dublin, London and Leeds. In the latter case I have to report that I temporality lost the jewel which was not a pleasant experience in a multi storey car park at midnight. Thankfully it was in the lining of my jacket.
I have done about seven valedictions - speeches in court to retiring judges - which have been a great experience. The most memorable was the one for HHJ Adrian Lyon which was presided over by Leveson LJ. I was quite proud to tweet that I had just appeared before Leveson.
I have chaired numerous meetings including our HR, IT and Training Forums which have been excellent opportunity for those involved in these important support roles to network and discuss issues of common concern. I have also chaired two meetings with local MPs and two with our local councillors. These meeting were bound to be dominated by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act – affectionately known as LASPO. All of those that we met were sympathetic to the case we made against removal of legal aid and it was a disappointment that most of the bill got through without amendment despite its mauling in the House of Lords. But we have built up strong relationships with those elected representatives which can only serve us well in the future. It was encouraging that we had MPs from the two major parties last time we met and it almost the fulfilment of a life’s ambition when I had to call them to order in the style of the speaker.
Here are some of the key events of the year –
- In April we had a successful spring Lunch at the Liver Building. This was well attended and the, then, Law Society President John Wotton gave an address and also faced some robust questions about the Law Society’s Legal Aid Campaign,
- The Local Law Societies’ Conference was hosted by Nottingham Law Society and I attended along with the Treasurer and Sarah Poblete.
- In May we hosted the tripartite event with our friends from Dublin and Belfast. They particularly enjoyed the treasure hunt around iconic Liverpool Hostelries – pub crawl! This annual meeting with our Irish friends has grown over the years and we hope to see it develop into more of a networking opportunity over the next few years. We also had our Summer Ball at the Liverpool Hilton hotel which had a 60s theme and was compered by the Society’s own aging hippies Charlie Jones and yours truly.
- We have had two very successful wine tasting events in the winter and the spring. On both occasions the sign of a successful night was the President flicking the lights on and off at 10.30 to call last orders.
- We have continued to maintain and develop our excellent relationship with the Judiciary. We had our annual Judges Question Time with their Honours De Haas, Goldstone, Gore and Hodge. This has become an important feature of our programme and I am very grateful to our local judges for their support.
- On a similar note we also hosted the Conkerton Memorial Lecture given by Baroness Hale of Richmond on the independence of the judiciary. This was a fascinating talk which was followed by the Opening of the New Legal Year and then dinner with Lady Hale and the Senior Judges at the Raquets Club.
- We have two international moments this year. Firstly I hosted a visit from 22 Lawyers from the Peoples Republic of China none of whom spoke any English so networking was not easy. They were fascinated by the photos of the Past Presidents especially the older ones with the most impressive facial hair. We also welcomed two lawyers from Rwanda who were here on placement at our two Universities. I was surprised at how young they were. They explained that the reason for this was that the profession was largely wiped out in the genocide and so they were starting from scratch. A sobering thought.
- I have been keen to strengthen our links with Chancery Lane. The relationship between the National and Local Law Societies has not always been healthy. But this has certainly changed over the last few years. We each have important and different roles to play. Chancery Lane is able to deal with national and even international issues. We have the local expertise and experience and can best serve our members when we work together. In July, I attended a private dinner in Birmingham with the current President Lucy Scott Moncrieff. She is keen to work with local law societies and understands the issues that we face.
- We did have an opportunity to work together in September this year when the MOJ announced proposals to impose Sunday Court Sittings on our Criminal Law Practitioners. Our Committee Chair John Ballam organised an effective campaign of opposition which saw a unanimous statement from local firms that they would not sign up for the voluntary duty solicitor scheme on which the initiative depended. Nick Fluck who is the Vice President of the Law Society came up for a meeting at Weightmans where he confirmed the Society’s support. In all this was an effective campaign which led to our getting a mention in the Law Society’s as mutinous Liverpool lawyers which I have to say was one of my proudest moments of the year!
- We also took part in the first legal sponsored walk at the beginning of October. This was to raise funds for the North West Legal Support Trust which promotes Pro Bono initiatives. The work of the trust is likely to increase dramatically in the wake of the impending legal aid cuts. We walked alongside colleagues from the bar, the Judiciary and CILEX and I hope that this is the first of what will be an annual event. This resulted in our second mention in the Gazette in as many weeks!
- In November we had our 185th Annual Dinner at the Adelphi Hotel. The attendance was about 220. There has been a gradual decline over recent years which is to be expected in a challenging economic climate. Other organizations have seen a similar picture. But the dinner was a success none the less. Our guest speakers were Nick Fluck and Rick Pratt QC, Leader of the Northern Circuit. I was particularly grateful to Rick who stepped in at the last moment to give one of the most memorable speeches of recent years. Despite the reduced numbers we are committed to continuing with the event and certainly hope to reach Dinner number 200 but I will be well gone by then.
Alongside these events we have continued with our CPD Programme of Seminars and conferences. This has been a very difficult year as seen by the accounts. The provision of CPD training has been a major source of income over the last few years and we have benefitted from this. But there has certainly been a decline in the demand particularly during the recession. We have also seen more firms providing training in-house and the growth of webinars. We had tried to introduce webinars with a view to modernising our programme but there was a very poor take up from members for an expensive product. This has been the most significant cause of the losses that have been made in the last year and we have now decided to suspend the programme. This is regrettable but it was something that we had to try in order to offer our members a wide range of options. I do wish to pass on a particular thank you to Past President, Donal Bannon whom I persuaded to take on the extremely challenging role of chairing our Training Committee for the last year. I’m not sure if he will thank me in return!
So while I am on the subject I also wish to thank my Vice President Alistair Fletcher for his wonderful support over the last year. Thanks also to out treasurer Glenys Hunt who has looked after accounts through two of the most difficult years in our recent history, and also the Joint Honorary Secretaries Cathy Fielding and Nina Ferris. Congratulations also go to Nina for having the unique distinction of giving birth to Antonia Thymaris Dawson whilst serving as an officer of the society. Presumably that also makes her the first to be congratulated in the president’s annual report!!
And of course the biggest thanks go to Sarah and the amazing team in the Law Society’s Office. As I have travelled around and met with other Law Societies I have realised what a remarkable role they play. An expression I have used throughout the year is – ‘We don’t we are born.’
And so another year draws to an end. I cannot believe the speed at which it has passed. Thanks to you all for allowing me to serve as your President for the last year. And good luck to Alistair Fletcher for 2013.
Finally I want to acknowledge the fantastic support from my Partners and Colleagues at EAD Solicitors