This is my first column of the presidential year and may I start by belatedly wishing you, your colleagues and families all a happy new year. The Christmas and New Year period is normally fairly quiet for the profession and the life of Bristol Law Society but this time it feels far from it.
In November Ashley Palminteri (immediate past president) and I attended a dinner hosted by Nick Fluck at which the presidents of Joint IV (the law societies of Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool). The discussion was naturally dominated by the SGM on 17th December. Whilst we broadly supported the policy of engagement and negotiation taken by the national law society and agreed that the alternative would have put the profession in a worse position, we did express our concerns about the perceived lack of consultation with local law societies and we felt that there were lessons to be learned in the way the law society communicates with the profession and the public. It seems to us that the case for the cuts to legal aid has more support in Westminster and the wider public than the case for preserving fundamental rights and quality of legal representation and the case in defence has not been as robust as it should have been. Bristol Law Society organised transport for those wishing to travel to London to attend the SGM in order to make it easier for those who wanted to cast a vote to do so. A month on from the SGM it would seem that the national law society has taken on board our comments and it is now embarking on a period of consultation and listening to the members of legal profession. This is evidenced by the visit to Bristol Magistrates Court on 13thJanuary by Andrew Caplen (Vice President of the Law Society) and Richard Miller (the law society’s Head of Legal Aid) and the invitation for practitioners in Bristol to attend a meeting arranged by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) at the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday 5 February 2014.
You should all have received membership renewal letters by now. Thank you to those who have already signed up for another year and those who have not yet done so I would urge you to. We cannot exist without the support of our members and sponsors. I listed all of our achievements last year in the renewal letter and the team here is committed to driving Bristol Law Society forwards and building on that success. This year will see Bristol Law Society making considerable investment in its recruitment service, library resources for members and a new website. For the first time in many years all of the events last year were sold out which indicates to us that there is increased demand for our services and benefits. This only serves to motivate the team here and think of new ways to offer value and contribute to the life of the profession in Bristol.
With this in mind Bristol Law Society has just finalised the programme of events for 2014 and details will be circulated to the membership very soon. There will be some familiar favourites and some new ones which we hope you will enjoy. A particular objective this year are to work with other professional groups in Bristol. I would also mention that we have just agreed further investment in Bristol Law Society Recruitment by signing up to a number of national recruitment websites to ensure that Bristol Law Society Recruitment is able to attract top quality candidates from around the country. The job market is clearly picking up in certain sectors and we want to ensure that we are giving firms and candidates the best possible service.
In this centenary year I would invite you to let me have your ideas on how Bristol Law Society might commemorate those articled clerks and solicitors who served and fell in the Great War. 33 articled clerks and 60 solicitors are recorded as having served and of those 8 solicitors and 5 articled clerks did not return. In many cases several members of the same family served together and some names we recognise as constituent elements of modern day firms in Bristol – Clarke, Wansbrough and others. Bristol Law Society wants to contribute to the period of reflection called for.
On a more personal note I am pleased to report that my second son Joshua was born on 30th December 2013. Someone asked me recently whether I was the youngest ever male president and whether Joshua was the first child to be born to a serving president of Bristol Law Society. It is a nice thought and I would happily accept the accolades but given Bristol Law Society has been in existence since 1770 I am doubtful I can rightly do so. Whatever the true position it is still a momentous year for me to be both president of Bristol Law Society and to welcome Joshua into the world.
Finally I would like to pay tribute to George Atkinson and his wife Dorothy who died peacefully on 12th January 2014 aged 97 and 91 respectively. George was president of Bristol Law Society in 1971/1972 appointed senior partner of Wansbroughs in 1979 and was president of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce before retiring in 1982. Ashley Palminteri and I both attended their funeral on 27th January 2014 on behalf of Bristol Law Society.
Please do contact me if you wish to discuss any issues with me or if you have any suggestions you would like to make about Bristol Law Society and its work.
Bristol Law Society