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As we move into August we can hopefully now enjoy a well deserved holiday.   But for those of us not taking a summer break, we will at least able to watch the Olympics in the newly arrived August sunshine and at the same time have a good read of this month’s edition of Legal Life.

Since taking on the presidency of BLS last November, like the Olympics, the work of BLS seems to have been a case of ‘on your marks, get set and go’!

On your marks - in December and January it was a case of ensuring the newly installed executive and Council were able to work together effectively.  This meant dealing with those immediate and urgent tasks such as the renewal of subscriptions and approving the budget with a goal of increasing both our membership and our reserves by year-end.  An early meeting with BLS accountants, Smith & Williamson, proved highly beneficial as it reinforced our relationship with them and established at the outset of the year that we were all focussed on the financial milestones to be achieved in 2012.  We then decided on the programme of events for the year including the quizzes, summer party and the annual dinner.  We confirmed the three training conferences for the year as well as other assorted seminars to be held in the law library.  Quartet Community Foundation in Bristol was selected as the ‘President’s Charity’ and we will be fund-raising in support of Quartet throughout the year.

Apart from our longer term goal of increasing the membership of BLS and generally strengthening the Society, we also recognised the need for BLS to reach out to its own members and to interact more effectively with national, regional and local legal organisations. I also wanted us to consolidate our relationships with our sponsors, local businesses and community groups as well as with both national and local government representatives.

This was a lot to ask of the BLS Executive and Council but I was aware that as a local law society established in 1770, we had struggled in recent years to maintain these relationships and there was some ground to be made up to ensure BLS’s relevance and influence were re-affirmed.

As many of you may be thinking as you read these words, ‘talk is cheap, delivery is the key’.  I agree with you.  So our next step was to begin to put all of these good intentions into practice this year with a sustained development plan to promote these objectives in the future.  I firmly believe that the development of BLS is a ‘marathon and not a sprint’.

Get Set - from the New Year onwards, we have organised the programme of meetings with our sponsors, local, regional and national representatives of both the legal profession and government.  We also met with representatives of the University of the West of England to approve the arrangements for student placement opportunities with local firms.   The dates of the training and social events have been decided with working groups established to organise the practicalities of delivering training events to a high standard in all cases.

Sponsorships have been agreed and I am very grateful to all of our sponsors who have in the main recognised the value of a continuing relationship with BLS and agreed to support us either in respect of a single event or as a package of different events during the year.

Go! - we started very quickly ‘out of the blocks’ in 2012.  I was extremely pleased that substantial income from subscriptions was received in January and we have managed to remain ahead of budget.  Finances and cash flow have always been monitored closely and we also ensured that our outgoings were kept on a tight rein but without detracting from membership benefits or our plans for the development of BLS.  The budget was set taking a conservative (but at the same time a realistic) approach in forecasting levels of income.  This strategy has resulted in revenue receipts to date remaining just ahead of target.

We have also been representing BLS over the past months at an assortment of meetings and seminars.  Our close relationship with the South West office of the Law Society and also our local representatives who sit on the Council of the Law Society has allowed us to maintain an effective and respected voice at the Law Society.  A recent meeting with the newly inaugurated President, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, was an excellent opportunity to discuss matters of concern.  Meetings with other local law societies in the south west and with the other larger local societies nationally have kept BLS ‘on the map’ as a valued and relevant organisation representing the legal profession in and around Bristol.  We have recently re-established contact with the Avon and Bristol Law Centre and are hoping to work in support of the law centre, especially as it is likely to be affected adversely by cuts in public sector funding.  In April, many members of BLS took part in the South West Legal Support Trust Access to Justice Walk in support of legal advice agencies in our region.  We have also remained close to the local branches of the Junior Lawyers Division and CILEX.

Our contacts with national government have been developed in meetings with local members of Parliament and the Ministry of Justice.  Local MP for Bristol East, Kerry McCarthy, kindly agreed to attend a question and answer session held in the Law Library in March.  Previously in February, I had attended a reception at the House of Commons with other representatives across the legal sector, together with consumer groups, the Law Society, other regulators, and a range of parliamentarians from both Houses, as well as the Ministry of Justice to mark the SRA's regulation of the newly arrived alternative business structures.

I am also keen to develop further relationships with local government in and around Bristol, and in particular with Bristol City Council.  I would also like to focus on improving membership levels amongst in-house lawyers in the public sector and in commerce and industry.

The student placement scheme with UWE has been a great success and thank you to all those firms who agreed to take part in the initiative.  We have also met with the College of Law in Bristol and are hoping to work more closely with the College and its students in the coming months.

So far we have held two dinners for managing partners and finance directors of law firms.  Both events went very well and were considered a success by those attending.  We are intending to hold a further dinner for HR managers in September.

The dispute resolution conference held in June enjoyed a very good turnout with an excellent line-up of speakers.  I am very grateful to everyone involved in organising and supporting the conference.  We have two further conferences planned, private client and property, in September and October respectively.  Conference brochures are being published shortly.  Seminars on compliance and financial planning issues have also been held in the Law Library with more events planned in the year.

On the social front, we have held two events so far, the quiz and the summer party.  Again both events were well attended and highly enjoyable for everyone who went along to them.  The ever popular Music Quiz takes place on 20 September. This will be followed by the ‘flagship’ gala annual awards dinner on 18 October after the Legal Sunday ceremony the previous weekend.  A NQ ceremony is being planned for October.

So hopefully, all the above has summarised the work of BLS to date. As I said above, we are involved in a ‘marathon and not a sprint’ and still have a lot of work to do and targets to achieve before the end of the year.  I am absolutely confident that your Society is working hard for its membership and the local legal profession generally.  Executive and Council are working very well as a team with our much-valued administrator, Jacek (supported by our dedicated volunteer, Claudine) and our excellent book-keeper, Fiona. Our editorial team, who are also members of Council, Marcus Keppel-Palmer and Leon Smith, who together produce ‘Legal Life’ each month should also be mentioned in dispatches.

At the outset of my presidential year I was determined to represent the local legal profession to the best of my ability and also to enjoy the experience along the way.  The former is for others to judge but as to the latter; I am happy to report that serving as your President is both a privilege and is proving to be a rewarding experience at the same time.  At the risk of quoting Latin, I think the motto of any BLS President should be: ’aut inveniam viam aut faciam’ (I shall either find a way or make one).

So let’s all enjoy the Olympics and the rest of the summer and then work hard together to support our local law society for the remainder of 2012 and in coming years.