Our President

Our President

Written By: Philip Turton
Edition: June 2020

One of the first things that strikes you, as you enter the Law Society’s suite of offices on Friar Lane in Nottingham, is the line of photographs of former Presidents of this Society, which date back to its formation in the 19th century.  Captured originally in black and white but in more recent years taken in ‘glorious technicolour’.  They show those members of the Nottinghamshire legal profession who have served their fellows as the President of this Society since its inception.

The photographs represent things which are of importance to this Society and its members: Continuity, good fellowship, the promotion of the law and of Nottinghamshire.  Many of the men and women in those photographs were at the very peak of their professional careers when they assumed the role of President and, of course, since so many of them are no longer with us, it is possible to look into their eyes, as Robin Williams did with the old photographs of students in Peter Weir’s seminal film “Dead Poets Society”, and to realise, “carpe diem”, that we must seize the day whenever the opportunity presents itself. 

What is also apparent from a quick glance across these pictures is that they also depict change.  Change in our Society; change in our professions; change in the way we organise and administer our institutions and the structures through which we live our lives.  That observation is apposite now, at a time when real change has been forced upon us and when, as of today, we know not yet where it may lead.  Change brought by the decision to leave the European Union and change, less foreseen, brought about by the current worldwide pandemic.  When thinking about how my Presidency might commence, I, like many of us, scarcely contemplated the circumstances in which we now find ourselves.  Change like this can be more frightening, imposed as it is from elsewhere, and, to a degree, outside our control.  We can seek to influence how we may be affected by it but we stand powerless, it may seem, in the face of forces which, it has quickly become apparent, are greater than ourselves.  I have this fear very much in mind as I start my term as your President and, where fear exists, I hope that I, and your Society, will be able to provide reassurance. 

The Nottinghamshire Law Society has seen difficulty before and embraced its opportunities.  Change is a creature we can recognise and welcome.  The Society continued and adapted through two world wars.  It embraced political change, constant as the tides, and moved forward, as it must, with the times.  Servants of the law have proved themselves ever resourceful and willing to adapt and to this difficulty we currently face, I expect, we will prove no different.  Positive change has been a feature of our Society and surrounds us now.  At the time of its formation, there will have been no female member of the Nottinghamshire Law Society at all.  Whilst it was a long time before a woman became its President, in recent years we have seen dynamic leadership from inspiring female role models such as Kathryn Meir and Laura Pinkney and we will, in due course, I know, see more from the Society’s new Deputy President, Janine Smith.  It is not just in the active role played by Nottingham women that we have changed.  The Society is now more diverse than it has ever been in its history but that is no reason for complacency.  As with every institution, there is a road being travelled and a distance to go.  I will say though that, in this Law Society, everyone is equal and everyone is welcome.

We might look back at those earlier Presidents, particularly those with the foresight to form the Nottinghamshire Law Society in the nineteenth century, and ask what vision they held for its future and of the purpose to which they sought to mould it.  Those questions are as proper in 2020 and it is necessary that we continue to ask them, from our own standpoint.  What is the purpose of this Law Society; what role do we seek to fulfil for the legal profession in Nottinghamshire and more widely, for the people, our clients, who come to us seeking our assistance?

I should observe that those first founders of our Society would not have allowed me to become their President.  My predecessor, Mike Auty QC, was our first President to come from the Bar but I am, I think, the first person ever to serve the Society as its President who has never practiced as a solicitor. The thought of allowing barristers to join their number would not have crossed the minds of our founders.  But this visionary step, which we remain one of few local Law Societies to have taken, reflects changed times and a changed profession.  It brings the legal profession in Nottinghamshire closer together, which is another forward step, marking as it does a desire to keep progressing, not to accept historic restrictions which might hold us back, and to reflect changing structures in the legal profession and increasingly blurred lines between the work that the two branches of the profession are able to undertake. 

It falls to us now to maintain our progress.  To ask ourselves what this organisation is for, how we can best serve our fellows, how we can advance and progress respect for the law and the legal profession in the Nottinghamshire area. 

As it turns out, these questions, and some of the answers, have already been evidenced in our response to the current crisis.  The training the Society provides for lawyers has continued but has moved to a virtual platform – something to which all of us have adapted and which raises real possibilities for how we effectively conduct our business in the future.  Technology, perhaps more fitfully used before, has now shown us again how it can be adapted to help and make our work more effective.  I expect this will change how we operate in the future and for good.  During lockdown, the Law Society formed a Nottinghamshire Civil Court Users Committee, a sister to the Crown Court Users Committee – in which local solicitors and barristers are working closely with the local judiciary to ensure that access to justice is maintained and administered effectively during the pandemic and beyond.  This committee is a new venture for us but marks, I would suggest, some of what we are about.  It contributes to the effective running of the law in Nottinghamshire and brings members of both professions together, to ensure that access to justice and the provision of fair judicial proceedings for the wider public are maintained so that, when we return to whatever the “new normal” may prove to be, the collective bump carries less impact.  What we look forward to most, of course, is the opportunity, once again, to socialise together, a hope given real promise by the Prime Minister’s announcement today. We will, as we were told early in this crisis, meet again - and once we do we will be able, not only to share a drink, but to look to the Society’s future with clearer purpose.

If anyone has doubted the benefits of the Law Society, these are but two examples that demonstrate its strength, which I think is recognised by the profession in Nottinghamshire and certainly by those of you who have chosen to join.  The Society repays its members through the services and benefits it offers but less tangibly, by uniting us in common endeavour.  It is time to be clearer about the benefits a strong local Society can bring and to proclaim it.  We will look again at our aims and our constitution to ensure that we meet the aspirations of our members; that we provide something of relevance to all, regardless of age, origin, sex or background; and that what we provide is appropriate for our time, which, as we may be about to find, has just changed for the better.  In undertaking that task, we may look to and be guided by the past, to the principles of our predecessors and to difficulties they overcame but we direct ourselves by the limits of our ambition.  For it is that, only, which restricts us.  And if that is our approach, I am sure we can look forward to the increasing success of our Society and its members.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve you as your President.

Best wishes,

Philip Turton

President 2020-2021