On 27th July 2020, Cardiff & District Law Society held its first ever virtual AGM. It was a well-attended event and it was great to see so many faces supporting the Society, I sincerely hope it will not be too long before we can gather safely to see each other in person and share our professional and personal experiences of lockdown.
As part of the AGM, I was able to provide a review of the year on behalf of the Society. Despite it being such an unusual and difficult year, when I sat down to prepare that review, I was pleasantly surprised with how much had been achieved. At the AGM in 2019, where I took up the post of President, I set out 3 core objectives for the year ahead. Thankfully, I was able to achieve those objectives (at least in part).
First, I wanted to ensure that everyone was aware of the forthcoming changes in respect of the SRA Standards & Regulations which were due to replace the existing SRA Handbook in November 2019. We were able to put on an event with Carol Westrop, Head of Legal Policy and Advice at the SRA, in October 2019 setting out the anticipated changes. We were then able to welcome Carol back in April 2020 for a virtual meeting which provided an update and refresher on those changes as well as giving information about how the SRA would regulate the profession in lockdown.
Second, given December 2019 marked the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, I was keen to ensure that Diversity & Inclusion were prominent throughout my year in office both in terms of celebrating how far we had come in those 100 years but also to reflect how much work still needed to be done. To that end, we held a Women in Law Lunch in January 2020 which, by all accounts was a triumph. I also took part in the Pride March in Cardiff on 24th August 2019 and I was humbled to be involved in an event attended by record crowds which demonstrated the commitment of the profession to the ethos that we are all equal under the law.
This year also saw the launch of the BAME sub-committee, they have made fantastic progress in setting up a group to represent the interests of BAME members of the local profession. They are being held us as an example for any local law society wishing to establish a similar group so huge credit to both Trish D’Souza of Capital Law and Jenine Abdo of Huttons for their hard work this year. In case you think we don’t have an issue in this area here in Wales, it is worth highlighting that only 3% of solicitors in Wales identify as BAME (the lowest in all areas of the UK). Compare that with anecdotal evidence from Welsh law schools that approximately 10% of their LPC students identify as BAME, we are therefore seeing a huge brain drain from Wales which needs to stop.
Third, I was keen to look into the issues of the Mental Wellbeing of lawyers. As a professional disciplinary lawyer, I know only too well the problems which can arise from lawyers under significant strain. We have this year appointed a Wellbeing Officer (Clare Good of Capital Law who is a LawCare Champion).
One of my charities for the year was LawCare and we held a number of events with them promoting the excellent work that they do. I was staggered to hear that very few members of our profession are aware of LawCare or the work they do and I hope that we have gone some way to rectifying that in Cardiff this year. The central theme of our Managing Partners Lunch in September 2019 was around wellbeing and included talks from LawCare, Yolk Recruitment and Kaplan Altior.
Sadly, lockdown meant that we could not hold our Annual Dinner in May. We had been working hard to put together a spectacular evening of entertainment but sadly it wasn’t to be. I am grateful to Emma Waddingham for all her hard work in this endeavour (and all her hard work putting together other events for the Society – including the establishment of Legal News Wales / legalnewswales.com which has been essential in circulating information and holding events during lockdown).
Legal Cardiff Awards 2020
The annual dinner is usually a time to celebrate achievements throughout the year by our members. At the AGM, we were able to announce our Legal Cardiff 2020 award winners. Congratulations to:
- Junior Lawyer of the Year Award – WINNER: Jonathan Williams, Watkins & Gunn
- Excellence in Innovation Award – WINNER: NewLaw Solicitors
Both awards were well deserved and both have been passported onto The Law Society Excellence Awards long list, they both go forward with our congratulations and we wish them the best of luck in their respective categories.
Whilst we were unable to hold an Annual Dinner, we did have a number of successful social events this year. Of note were the inaugural Summer Soiree held on the impressive roof terrace of the new Hugh James offices in Central Square. It was a fantastic evening and gave me an opportunity to introduce my charities for the year, being LawCare and City Hospice both of whom were in attendance.
We also held a John Lewis event and a lawyers in lockdown quiz where we raised much needed funds for Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital Charity.
There was also the traditional Children’s Christmas Party in November, held at Parc Play in Cardiff. Thanks as always to Tom Danter of Dolmans and Jan Lavelle of Synergy Costs for arranging a magical event including a chance to meet the Real Santa Claus.
At the AGM, our new officers were elected, including Caron Rockey of Martyn Prowel Solicitors who will become President when I hand over the reigns in September, Tom Black of Eversheds Sutherland who becomes Vice President, and Jenine Abdo of Huttons Solicitors who becomes Junior Vice President. I have worked with all three of them closely over the last year and gotten to know them well on a personal and professional level. I feel the Society is in excellent hands for the future and will go from strength to strength in the coming years.
There was a touch of regret at the AGM as we had to say goodbye to two of our long standing Council members, Jennifer Perry and Hugh Price, both of whom are retiring from Council with over 20 and 30 years’ service respectively. We are all very grateful to them for their outstanding contributions to the advancement of the Society and we will be sad to see them go (although hopefully they remain friends and members of the Society for many years to come).
As this is likely to be my final message as President, I would like to extend thanks to Council and in particular those who sit on the Finance & Policy Committee. Their help and advice has been invaluable this year. Members of Council are volunteers and give up a significant amount of time to ensure the smooth running of the Society.
I would also like to thank my Firm, Richard Nelson LLP, for their support during my year as President. Without the support of our Firms and them buying into the importance of local law societies, it would be impossible to undertake the role of President.
Whilst a strange and busy year, I have very much enjoyed my time as President of Cardiff & District Law Society and there will inevitably be a reluctance to pass on the ‘gong’ to Caron in September.
Steve Roberts, President (2019-2020)