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New Year welcome from BLS President

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May I welcome everybody back and hope that you had an enjoyable break. The last few years have been very difficult for many practitioners and firms alike and 2013 looks no different. Indeed, many firms who undertake legal aid work are both apprehensive and concerned about the changes to public funding which will be introduced in April. Many areas of work previously covered by legal aid will now be deemed “out of scope”.

Apart from the obvious consequences for many law firms who rely heavily on their public funding income this will also have a dramatic impact on the public – the people who are most vulnerable and unable to pay a commercial rate for legal advice and representation. Access to Justice in its most purest form.

There are various entities and institutions that serve and meet these needs. It was with great delight therefore that John Peake and his team at South West Law won the Legal Aid firm of the year at Bristol Law Society’s recent annual awards dinner. A very popular vote.

One of my prime objectives this year is to promote the profession in Bristol and around, both to the public and to other professions alike. I was pleased to be invited to Avon and Bristol law centre, based in Stokes Croft. And as I waited to meet Clare Carter, I was witness to some of the hard and challenging work that they face daily. It was therefore a very easy decision to choose Avon and Bristol law centre as my charity of the year. I know from my own discussion with Clare Carter that they already have many links with most of the firms in Bristol. Sadly, they too will suffer with the reduced scoping of public funding and their income is likely to drop by some 20 to 25%. Like many of us they need to review their outgoings and expenditure. Consequently there are likely to be some redundancies. However, as is often the case, such challenges bring innovation and creative solutions. One such initiative is Joined up Justice. This enables individuals but more realistically, firms to sponsor a case. I’m told that the cases can be sponsored for as little as £200 and if you wish, you can express how that money is applied by selecting a preference between welfare benefits, employment, debt, housing or immigration. I’m hoping that Bristol Law Society can raise the profile of this dynamic scheme and promote Joined up Justice at every opportunity. On a more positive note I was pleased to learn that they had been successful in securing a grant from both Bristol City Council and Comic Relief; however those grants will only provide short-term relief, as the legal aid scheme will only continue to be put under pressure.

I was also very encouraged with my first Council meeting as President in December. I am lucky enough to have the support of a vibrant and dynamic Council which is represented by 28 members and 18 firms. We are already planning the various events that we host over the year from our Managing Partners dinner in March, to the newly qualified event and Annual Dinner in October. These are not only very enjoyable events but also a great opportunity to network and meet both peers and other professionals from the City. We shall also be hosting our specialist conferences in private client, property and dispute resolution. My thanks to everyone who’s volunteered to assist.

Finally, it is time to renew your membership. I frequently have to remind people that Bristol law Society is a not for profit organisation. All of our council members are volunteers and share my commitment to promoting both the profession and region. This is done in a number of ways which I will expand upon in next month’s column. In the meantime, I would urge you to renew your membership and more importantly, to encourage those whom you work with to also join the Society especially if they are new to the firm or simply just not members. I have been involved with Bristol Law Society since I returned to Bristol in 2005 and have met many new people and benefited greatly from my membership, both professionally and otherwise.

Ashley Palminteri

28 December 2012

PS I am pleased to announce that Adam Sampson, the Legal Ombudsman has accepted our invitation to attend Bristol on 29 January at our Joint IV conference, which is kindly being hosted by Burges Salmon.