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Annual report highlights COVID-19 ‘resilience’
Pic: Cian Redmond

30 Oct 2020 / law society Print

Annual report highlights COVID-19 ‘resilience’

No part of the legal profession was immune from the inevitable challenges caused by the restrictions necessitated by the response to COVID-19, according to Law Society President Michele O’Boyle.

Writing in the Society’s 2019/2020 annual report, she says the speed, scale, depth and duration of the challenges that faced the profession and society since 12 March were, by any standard, impossible to predict and difficult to confront.

Leverage

The report outlines how the pandemic affected the Society’s finances. Operational spending and capital spending were significantly reduced during the year and the Society is expected to record a loss of €1 million for 2020.

Finance Committee chair Christopher Callan said, however, that the Society’s finances performed well in 2019, giving it leverage to absorb income losses this year as a result of the pandemic.

The after-tax surplus for 2019, excluding investment gains, was better than expected at €1.2 million. Total income for 2019 was up 5% from a year earlier at €32.2 million, while spending rose by 2.3% to €28.1 million.

Challenges

In his report, Director General Ken Murphy said the profession should be proud that its members were still representing, mediating, negotiating, advising and problem-solving.

“Large firms and small have adapted and are working relentlessly to serve their clients and communities in the face of enormous challenges,” he said.

“The shared experience of COVID-19 and its myriad impacts have highlighted how resilient, collaborative, adaptable and committed solicitors are as a profession,” Mr Murphy added.

As a response to COVID-19. the Society launched its Crisis Business Support and Crisis Career Support services.

The annual report said nearly 400 members had called these helplines to seek assistance with accessing state support, and to look for business and career advice. In addition, hundreds of solicitors have been attending the Society’s online Practice Support Information Sessions, which provide information on how to access State and Law Society supports.

Cultural changes

As well as the urgent measures put in place to ensure continuity of access to justice, Ms O’Boyle said the reality of living with COVID-19 also necessitated medium-term and long-term cultural changes.

“Our council and committee meetings now look remarkably different, and may continue to do so for the foreseeable future,” she said, adding that practices throughout the country had similarly adapted their operations.

The report welcomed commitments from the new Government on a number of areas linked to justice, pointing in particular to commitments to publish a Family Courts Bill and assurances on family law court facilities in Dublin.

Ms O’Boyle said the significant record investment in justice announced by Budget 2021 would preserve access to justice during the pandemic and enable the courts system to take advantage of modern technology.

The year also included the historic moment when solicitors were, for the first time, invited to apply for Patents of Precedence and become Senior Counsel.

LLPs

Writing in the report, Mr Murphy welcomed the “significant” announcement late last year that solicitor partnerships would be able to register as limited liability partnerships (LLPs), the culmination of a long campaign by the Society.

By the end of 2019, a total of 88 valid applications for LLP authorisation had been submitted by law firms, and 28 authorisations were issued by the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA).

He added, however, that the Society would continue to press for the extension of this protection to sole practitioners.

The director general said the Society’s work on the challenges and opportunities of Brexit continues, as does its engagement with the LSRA and the wind-down of the Society’s complaints function.

Education online

On education, the report highlights the start in January of the new PPC Hybrid course, which reduces barriers and provides greater access to the profession for trainees from diverse educational, professional and socio-economic backgrounds.

The Society has adapted to COVID-19 to deliver 100% of its educational offering online. Almost 450 trainee solicitors made history as the first group to undertake the Law Society’s inaugural online Professional Practice Course 2 (PPC 2).

The annual report shows that there are now 10,807 solicitors practising across the country, and 1,991 firms. 52% of solicitors are female.

The Gazette magazine continued to be published on schedule, despite the challenges of lockdown, while Gazette.ie welcomed 452,655 unique visitors in the year under review – an increase of 27% compared with the previous 12 months.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland