I. Stephanie Boyce has become the 177th president of the Law Society of England and Wales, becoming the first Black office-holder and the second in-house solicitor in almost 50 years to do so.
She takes office at an uncertain time for everyone, but believes conditions are ripe for making real, lasting improvements in the legal sector.
“This is a time of change for solicitors, for their organisations, and for the country. But while solicitors can and do play the role of the trusted adviser, we can also be a force for change,” she said. “The door is open, and the trail is ready to be blazed.”
Stephanie explains how this force for change will drive her three main priorities during her term as president. “My plan is ambitious, but the ambition to secure change is what ensures change.”
As the first person of colour to be president of the Law Society, Stephanie points to the growing diversity within the legal profession – but there is much more to be done.
Law Society research indicates the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities across the legal sector. Solicitors with disabilities, solicitors with caring responsibilities and solicitors from minority ethnic backgrounds continue to face obstacles.
Personal characteristics or an individual’s socio-economic background should not determine how far people can go. Stephanie is calling for genuine equal opportunities and treatment in the profession and judiciary and will work to address the retention and progression gaps faced by many solicitors.
“It is my mission to leave the profession more diverse and inclusive than the one I entered,” Stephanie said.
Improving access to justice and technology
Stephanie will work alongside solicitors to ensure access to justice and the rule of law are in clear focus as the government lifts restrictions related to the pandemic.
“As we exit this time of crisis, we will do our utmost to secure a justice system which emerges in a stronger position than before – the phoenix from the ashes,” she said.
Recognising how the use of technology has been a lifeline for the justice system throughout the pandemic, Stephanie welcomes the shift towards virtual hearings, but stresses that justice must still be accessible to all, especially those with poor digital skills, disabilities, or a lack of equipment, internet access or financial resources.
Promoting digital engagement, good mental health and the rule of law
During lockdown, the Law Society has had to engage as never before with our members digitally. This has provided more avenues to reach our membership, improving accessibility and opportunities for engagement.
In continuation of this, Stephanie announced the launch of our new virtual course, ‘Introduction to Legal Technology’, which explains what lawtech is, the types of technology available for your practice, and how you can use it.
The course is free and available to all members. You can find it on our website through our learning platform.
Stephanie also recognises the great physical and mental strain the pandemic has placed on many solicitors and pays tribute to the myriad of initiatives being developed by law firms across England and Wales.
“Good mental health and wellbeing must be valued and encouraged, and where environments do not facilitate this, change must be realised,” she said. But she points out how the issue of poor mental health has been exacerbated by increasing attacks on solicitors and the integrity of the legal profession.
“We often hear that the rule of law is a fundamental British value – well, it is solicitors that ensure this is so, and they must be able to do their job without fear of intimidation.”
As president, Stephanie will engage constructively with government on proposed reforms to judicial review and the Human Rights Act. “Proposed changes must not weaken our rights and must be consistent with the rule of law,” she declared.