Lord Lieutenant, High Sheriff, judges, ladies and gentlemen …….It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the 8th Bristol Law Society’s annual awards dinner. It’s hard for me to believe it’s 11 months since I took over as president of BLS although when I look back at everything that’s happened this year I’m surprised we’ve managed to cram so much in…..so here’s a quick re-cap!
As you can see it’s been a busy year! We’ve had some incredible highlights as we moved into and started to operate from our new premises (photo) and some unexpected challenges (photo) and that’s just locally. 2017 has been the year which brought us the new Business and Property Courts, the SQE, the growth of apprenticeships, fixed costs reviews and now we are all preparing for the implementation of the GDPR in May 2018. We’ve seen a great deal of change for the profession. Each change taken independently brings associated challenges for our firms. There are requirements for related changes to systems and processes, staff training and the financial burden this brings. Cumulatively the impact of these changes is significant.
A recent article in the Law Gazette summed this up stating that….‘In the last 20 years, a career in the law has become ever more uncertain. With high competition for university places and training contracts and pupillages on graduation. Aspiring solicitors working in suspended animation as paralegals. Student debts are stratospheric. The economy is uncertain. The chances of partnership are reduced and a close government interest in cutting litigation, legal aid and the court services make for a daunting backdrop’. Wow! I hope that hasn’t put you off your dinner! Anyone else looking at a career move?
The fact is the profession is facing a number of threats. Concerns are regularly expressed over whether there will be a dilution of the solicitor brand or the creation of a two-tier system which will have a detrimental impact on the credibility of the profession from a consumer perspective, particularly if the SQE introduction is not handled with sufficient transparency and clarity. Even more important then is a robust network of people trying to counter these threats, prepare for future challenges and working together to share best practice and to lobby against change where it will clearly damage the profession and our clients. BLS is well placed to provide this network. With around 4000 members, a voice which is listened to in Chancery Lane – individually and as part of the Joint V group (which is made up of the 5 largest, local law societies in the country) as a member of ASWLS linking with our counterparts across the south west region and as part of the wider local, business community through its links with educators (like UWE, BPP, University of Law and Weston College); accountants (like Milsted Langdon and the ICAEW) and through the cross professional networking group. We can make a real difference.
BLS can build on this as we move into 2018 with the benefit of our new offices. This is the first time that BLS has owned their own property in their almost 250 year history and provides us with a fantastic opportunity to grow, expanding our offering and developing new income streams all for the benefit of our members (shameless plug for event space to hire – competitive rates, see website for details!). There are further growth opportunities now that our new website is about to launch with greater scope to include valuable content and to be responsive to the needs of the profession. With your continued support we have a fantastic opportunity to really shape the future of the legal profession.…..and with people like our award nominees, shortlist and winners we surely have the strength and talent locally to achieve this.
Now, as I’ve said, it’s been a busy year. We’ve responded to many key TLS and SRA consultations, we’ve continued to develop our training programme adding our Practice Managers Conference to our already full event schedule (coming soon – again, see website for details! Another shameless plug – how am I doing, Helen? Anyone would think I’m working on commission!). Also, the introduction of our ‘Lunch and Learn’ events aimed primarily at junior lawyers, developing business professionals and supporting the new core competencies framework for ‘CPD’.
We’ve linked with 4 schools in Bristol (Oasis Brightstowe Academy, Henbury School, Bridge Learning Campus and Bedminster Down) supporting them with their own careers events, providing mock interviewing and mini-debates and most recently delivering a mock trial at UWE’s new Business and Law faculty building, (which I highly recommend going to see if you can!).
We’ve embedded our links with Avon and Bristol Law Centre and I’m pleased to report that a representative from ABLC will be joining BLS Council in November to further cement this link at a time when access to justice for all remains top priority.
We’ve engaged with the Chancellor of the High Court, Sir Jeffrey Vos when he visited Bristol to appraise us of his plans to further promote Bristol as a legal centre of excellence. We’ve arranged representation when Lord Justice Briggs consulted on the extension of the fixed costs regime. I’ve even had the opportunity to address the profession at the Presidents and Secretaries Conference. We are working hard to promote Bristol’s strengths both in the legal profession and in business more generally. If you think you might want to get involved and be part of BLS do please get in touch – we are always looking for willing victims, sorry, volunteers!
As you have heard, it’s been a positive year for BLS but not in every respect. We’ve survived a flood……..but hopefully tonight there will be no fires (nor, according to the Marriotts’ kitchen any famine!). But with the courts suffering far worse with their flood we are reminded that there are always those who have it harder than us. Which brings me neatly to my charity of the year; I’ve been proud this year to support the Spinal Injuries Association. As some of you will know, my choice of charity is a personal one. In 1985, just 2 weeks after my brother turned 20, (whilst posted in Germany with the army) he dived into a river stream which was only 2ft deep and was paralysed instantly. This was a stream he’d swum in many times but that split-second decision changed his life. This could happen to anyone. An ill-placed rugby tackle, a bike/car accident, a fall, a dive……The SIA were an important part of my brother’s rehabilitation so let me introduce you to Henry Kimbell from SIA to tell you more about the charity’s excellent work.
Thank you, Henry. I know many of the firms here tonight already support what I’m sure you will all agree is an extremely worthy cause. I’d ask you all to support the SIA tonight. To be blunt, let’s face it, most of you are here enjoying a free evening thanks to your firms so please give generously. There’s an added incentive that the person who gives the most in their envelope or via text will be entered into a separate draw to win a tour of the Williams F1 Racing Team’s factory and museum with lunch for 4 and other goodies so please dig deep! Thanks again Henry.
And whilst I’m thanking people………
……..time for my Oscar speech now – cue music! My final words are words of thanks….to my family, especially my husband for enabling me to do this and for supporting me always. To BLS Council and Exec. Thank you for your energy, your time and your guidance and good humour through everything this year.
Special thanks to Helen Read and Clair Ponting for working tirelessly and constantly to promote BLS and the profession here in Bristol and Bath. You are absolute ‘work-horses’ and the key to our development and continued success. Thank you.
To our sponsors and strategic partners (UWE, Milsted Langdon, Wessex Searches, Lloyds bank) and to every sponsor this evening, thank you for your tremendous support.
To Justin and his team on AV and lighting; to our event organiser, Ceri who always makes the evening run smoothly and to all of you for coming!
Thank you and enjoy your evening.