The presidential year 2022/2023 has seen changes, new beginnings, and growth for the solicitors’ profession and the Law Society.
We have emerged from the Covid years to face new beginnings and changes in our work practices, and the Law Society has commenced further growth and development under the guidance and management of our director general Mark Garrett and his executive leadership team.
We have welcomed new members to the profession, and the Law Society continues to experience growth in the number of trainees qualifying as solicitors. The Law Society is proud of all colleagues who have undergone the extensive and excellent professional training and education provided by the Education Department, equipping them to be the future legal experts and advisors.
We have also lost dear friends from the profession and from the Law Society, and we take a moment to pause and remember them and what they contributed to us through their friendship, commitment, and work.
In the series of presidential messages contained in the Gazette magazine, I set out my priorities for my presidential year, which were access to justice; professional courtesy; gender equality, diversity and inclusion; and the movement of the solicitors’ profession and the Law Society into the centre of society as legal experts and advisors, safeguarding the rights of our people and assisting in the ongoing development of a fair and equitable society.
Access to justice
On the theme of access to justice, I participated and represented the profession at the Access to Justice forum organised by the Chief Justice. I highlighted the often unrecognised and unmarked work of solicitors, whom I have described as true heroes, in recognising the need for justice for their clients and ensuring that the rights of our people are upheld by challenges to legislation and advocating change to case law, often at their own monetary and work expense.
I have also highlighted recent proposed legislation, and legislation that has now passed into law (including the Planning and Development Bill 2022, the Patient Safety (Notifiable Incidents and Open Disclosure) Act 2023 and the recent implementation of regulations pursuant to the Personal Injuries Resolution Board Act 2022) as being areas that have affected, and will affect adversely, the rights of our people.
We all recognise that a functioning legal system, guaranteeing the independence of lawyers, and the freedom of the press are closely aligned as major pillars of society and, in this regard, I particularly highlighted at the Justice Media Awards, hosted by the Law Society, and subsequently in President’s Messages in the Gazette, the need for our people to be informed when their rights are in danger of being eroded or reduced. I have called on the media to take up their responsibility and fulfil their role as one of the pillars of society.
Vindication of victims’ rights
As your president, I have drawn attention to the issue of the rise and rise of the ‘rule of power' versus ‘the rule of law and access to justice’ – not only on the international front, but more specifically here at home – through pressures on and changes to the PIAB system, and also the courts system. It is in the area of litigation that most of our people will encounter the courts system. As your president, I have highlighted that the system needs to be safeguarded against all pressures, ensuring that victims will enjoy access to justice and the vindication of their rights. While we embrace our post-COVID world with new technology and new methods and practices of work, let us not forget the price to be paid for these changes. Solicitors of recent generations undoubtedly say that the pressures of work and dealing with the expectations of clients’ ever-demanding timelines and deadlines take their toll.
Maintaining the balance
During my presidential year, I have focused on two areas for all of us to pause and consider. The first is our own wellbeing and the importance of valuing yourself first. You can only be that strong, expert, wise advisor if you care for your own wellbeing, both physically and mentally, and maintain that necessary balance between your work life, and your personal and family life.
The second area is the issue of professional courtesy to each other. I have explained to newly qualified solicitors, at parchment ceremonies, that we solicitors make up a family, albeit a family of professionals. We never know what is going on in each other’s lives and what pressures we all have to bear. Therefore, as your president, I have encouraged all of you to be mindful of this while acting in the best interests of your clients and to always engage with each other in a professional and respectful manner.
The International Bar Association’s (IBA) first global wellness study (Mental Wellbeing in the Legal Profession: A Global Study, October 2021) revealed crisis levels of wellbeing among lawyers across the globe, including among Irish lawyers, who were the second-highest cohort of respondents globally. The WHO-5 Global Wellbeing Index used to measure results in the IBA report attest to a clinically concerning level of poor mental health among Irish solicitors. In recognising this, I have encouraged and supported the Law Society in the continuing development of Law Society Psychological Services, which has now launched for all solicitors and trainees. As your president, I would encourage each of you to seek out the information and assistance that is available to ensure your peace of mind and your continued success as a solicitor.
As only the sixth woman to hold the office of President of the Law Society, I recognise the importance of gender equality, diversity and inclusion. One of the most significant events that the Law Society is celebrating in 2023 is the centenary of the admission of the first two female solicitors to the profession in Ireland. This centenary falls during a year in which all of the presidents of the largest representative bodies of the solicitors profession are women: the Law Society of Ireland, the Dublin Solicitors’ Bar Association, and the Southern Law Association.
As your president, I hosted an event on International Women’s Day, in collaboration with the Irish Women Lawyers’ Association, in which we launched the commemoration and celebration of 100 Years of Women in Law. We heard personal stories from our distinguished panel of colleagues about their ‘lives in law’. In addition, an exhibition featuring the photos and biographical details of the first 100 women admitted to the Roll of Solicitors is currently on display at Blackhall Place.
During this important year, we reflect on the past 100 years of women in our profession and look ahead to the future. That future must be as diverse as our modern Irish society, and we must continue to work to improve representation, particularly at leadership level.
Remarkable progress has been made since 1923, but, of course, there is still more work to be done by everyone. I want to recognise particularly the female solicitors who have held the position of President of the Law Society before me – and the legacies they forged during their term of office.
The review of the strategic role, policy and vision for the Law Society for the next five years is being undertaken this year. A significant body of work has been carried out by the Law Society in devising the strategy and vision for 2024 to 2028. This work also coincided with one of the presidential objectives that the Law Society should become central to the making and shaping of policy in our society. In this regard, I am proud of the assistance given by the Law Society to Government in relation to legislative and regulatory proposals, where the Law Society, in partnership with Government, worked together to resolve unforeseen difficulties.
Arising from the strategic review, a widespread consultation process was initiated with the profession and all stakeholders. I wish to particularly thank all those who participated in the comprehensive survey of the legal profession, led by our research partners B&A, which was your chance to shape the focus and direction of the Law Society for the next five years. Significant work is continuing at present to shape the strategy and vision and, when ready, will be promulgated to members of the profession and stakeholders.
Ireland for Law
As president, I have represented the profession at international events. I have particularly promoted the ‘Ireland for Law’ programme, whereby international commercial disputes can be mediated and heard in the common-law jurisdiction of Ireland, using the Commercial Court. This project, which is supported by Government, is increasing and developing, and has been very well received both in the USA and across Europe.
Arising from engagement with European law societies and associations and to further the promotion of Ireland for Law, as your president, I applied at the annual conference of the Fédération des Barreaux d’Europe (FBE) on 16 June 2023 to join Ireland as a member of the FBE.
It is anticipated that this will allow Ireland to develop a programme of knowledge enhancement for European lawyers to use Ireland for Law in commercial matters.
The revival of the President’s Conference proved to be a major success with members. This year’s conference was held in Mount Juliet, Kilkenny. Its focus was on the future and sustainability of legal practices, careers, and the profession.
The programme for this over-subscribed conference featured practical advice from in-house and external experts on optimising business and supporting practices. My sincere thanks to all members who attended and who contributed to the day’s discussions.
I would particularly like to thank the Council and committees of the Law Society for the extensive work carried out by them, and for their professionalism, expertise and support offered to me during my presidency.
I also thank the bar associations for the great welcome I received from them, and for their support given to me as president.
Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to our director general Mark Garrett for his advice, wisdom and support, given freely and kindly, and also the directors of the Law Society’s departments – namely T P Kennedy (director of education), Gillian Cregan (director of finance and administration), Barbara Carroll (director of human resources), Teri Kelly (director of representation and member services), Dr Niall Connors (director of regulation), and Judge Geoffrey Shannon SC who, until his well-merited appointment to the Circuit Court, was our director of policy – for their support, advice and consultation, which they gave freely and most willingly during my presidential year.
I also express my gratitude and thanks to all of the staff of the Law Society who welcomed me to Blackhall Place, which became my second home, and who gave me their full assistance and support in a friendly and most willing manner. We are indeed fortunate to have the quality of personnel working for, and in, the Law Society. I wish all of you continued health, success and prosperity in your chosen paths and careers.