A Brief Q&A with Peter Watson-Lee – the national Law Society Council Member for Dorset.

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Let’s start at the beginning – what on earth is the national  Law Society?

Well, the national Law Society was founded just under 200 years ago in London to represent and support the solicitors profession. Funds were raised and a grand Hall was built in Chancery Lane, not far from the London courts, to be its headquarters.  Since then the Society has gone from strength to strength and it continues to have an essential role both in supporting solicitors across the country and in supporting the smooth running of the country’s legal system.

But why does there need to be a national organisation?

First solicitors from across the country often face similar problems. The COVID lockdowns are a prime example where central guidance about the rapidly changing rules was so useful to solicitors in all areas. Secondly, it is the government in London that makes the new laws and rules that affect our day-to-day lives.  Individual solicitors would have little chance to influence things for the better, but by acting together in a non-political way,  the national Law Society can often influence new legislation for the better.

So give us an example of national policy that affects us here in Dorset.

An obvious one is the lack of funding for the courts and for legal aid. With the eye on the short term, politicians have allowed numerous court closures to take place and have failed to increase legal aid fees for many years. This badly affects rural areas like Dorset where many local courts have been closed and where there is an acute shortage of legal aid solicitors available to help the more vulnerable members of our community. The Law Society is at the forefront of campaigning for improvement.

It all sounds very grand, isn’t it all a bit out of touch?

Far from it. These days the Law Society is overseen by a Council of elected solicitors drawn from all regions of the country – including one from Dorset – as well as Council members representing various work types and also council members representing solicitor diversity groups. It is funded by contributions from solicitors and has its feet firmly on the ground. It is very much aware of the day-to-day problems faced both by solicitors and their clients.

But isn’t the Solicitors profession old fashioned?

Not at all. The solicitor’s profession is changing beyond all recognition. Women now make up over 50% off the professional overall and two thirds of newly qualified solicitors are female. The national Law Society is particularly keen on encouraging diversity within the profession and supports many schemes to do so. It is also very aware of the pressures and stresses on solicitors and recognising and helping mental health is another priority.

So what is your role as the Law Society Council member for Dorset?

First, I am a direct contact with the local Dorset Law Society –  and indeed the Bournemouth & District Law Society. As well as sitting on the Council, I’ve been elected to Chair the ‘Membership and Communications’ committee. This promotes the society’s engagement with solicitors across the country, helps to promote the profession and also looks at such things running the society’s communications,  website  and  media – including its social media.

Do you mean you are on Tik-Tok?

Not personally. But yes, the national Law Society has just started a Tik-Tok page that we are experimenting with! Whilst our surveys tell us that people who use solicitors usually have a high regard for them individually, we are well aware that as a general rule solicitors are an easy target and we  keen to reach out to make sure people know we are human.  As well as a budding Tik-ToK page, we are on Instagram, have several twitter accounts and a significant LinkedIn presence!

Peter Watson-Lee

Law Society Council Member for Dorset

14th April 2023