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Robert Bourns

Robert Bourns

President at Law Society

On how his pride in the profession campaign plays into key areas of work for the year

On the wall in the foyer of the Law Society are names of former presidents, secretaries and chief executives of our Society stretching back almost 200 years.

Our profession itself stretches back much further, into the mists of the early Middle Ages. We are a profession with a long, noble and – above all else – proud history.

It is this sense of pride in our profession that will be central to everything I do during my year as president of the Law Society of England and Wales.

The sense that becoming and being a solicitor is something to be proud of; that it is not simply a job, but a calling.

This pride will be visible across not just what we do, but how we speak about the profession, and how we call on others to do so. I intend to challenge the way people talk about the solicitor profession, by highlighting the way we contribute to not just the justice system, but to the economy and to our communities. It is too easy to denigrate solicitors when our clients are unpopular, and ignore the vital principle that representing everyone equally, without fear or favour, embodies.

An important part of this will be our focus on promoting the law of England and Wales as the jurisdiction of choice for international business. The legal services sector generates £25.7 billion of GDP across the UK, £3.6 billion of international earnings and employs and trains an estimated 370,000 people. English is the international language of business, and English law is the preferred law for cross-border business. This has not come about by accident, but through the high standing of our legal profession, our stable law, our impartial judiciary, and our skilled solicitors. It is something we can take huge pride in and that has been achieved only because we have demonstrated value (more than simple assessment of price) and something the Law Society will continue to promote, in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Equally we should not be shy about promoting what we have to offer to the public. Our Solicitor Brand campaign, kicking off early next month, will showcase for the public the commitment that solicitors have to their clients, and the role we play in helping to solve problems, order affairs or make plans.

This pride also means standing up for the essential values of our profession, and doing so unapologetically. The Law Society is currently working hard to oppose a number of threats to the core standards of the solicitor profession, such as moves to undermine legal professional privilege (a right of the client) or reduce regulation on the legal sector that provides clients with protection. These moves are always framed with a worthy public policy goal such as investigating crime or greater consumer choice, but they ignore the fundamental fact that the vast majority of these regulations and protections exist not for our benefit, but for our clients. They ensure that our clients can speak to us in confidence, know that money we hold for them is safe, and trust that their interests are placed first. They are at the core of the unique service we offer to the public, and we should not be shy about fighting to protect them.

Finally, this pride also means having the courage to ensure that we are living up to the values we espouse. A key example of this is in making sure that our legal profession is diverse, inclusive, and represents our vibrant modern society. This means more than simply telling those from under-represented backgrounds that they can be a part of the profession – we must make sure they have a “line of sight” to every part of it. We need to keep working to better demonstrate for every solicitor that they can make it to any part of the profession and that we will support them in that journey. If we fail to do this, we miss out on unlocking the full power and potential that the solicitor profession can offer, and we fail to live up to our own values.

Each day our clients entrust us with the most intimate details of their personal and professional lives – we celebrate with them as they buy their first house, we are there to help should their marriage come to an end, and guide them as they put their affairs in order for after they pass away. If they do wrong, and the world has (perhaps rightly) turned on them, we stand with them, dogged in the belief that every person deserves a fair hearing before the law. We are a strong voice speaking out for values such as the rule of law and human rights, which touch all our lives whether people recognise it or not.

My year as president of the Law Society is a small blip in the long history of our profession – if I can end it with solicitors holding their head a little higher, it will have been a good year.

www.lawsociety.org.uk

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