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Law Society Parchment Ceremony
Thursday 3rd May 2018
President of the Law Society,
President of the High Court,
It a great honour for me to participate in today’s Parchment Ceremony and to congratulate today’s prize winners and Parchment recipients.
This is a day for you all to be so proud - marking as it does, your formal induction as a member of the solicitors’ profession. It hasn’t come easily … I know that of course from personal experience. Qualifying is tough, it’s long, and it happens only after much hard work and dedication. I want to acknowledge that and commend you for it.
But as you qualify, what are you qualifying into? I think it is important to acknowledge that we are living in a time that of unique challenge and change… challenge and change which affect the legal profession just as much as any other. I am a solicitor myself, but I know that even compared to the time when I practised, you are entering a more complex environment… one in which new technologies will no doubt continue to disrupt, the global economy will almost certainly continue to fluctuate, and your clients will continue to become more empowered and informed – as indeed they should be.
But in any realm, as demand grows, response is required, and I am glad to say that in the case of the broader legal services environment, government is responding.
Part of that response, as you may know, is to be found in the Legal Services Regulation Act of 2015. It has led to the establishment of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority which is independent in the performance of its functions and which has just submitted its first Strategic Plan for the years 2018-2020.
It’s an exciting plan, and along with officials of my Department, I will continue to work closely with the Authority to enable it to come into substantive regulatory mode at the earliest opportunity. In so doing, I will continue to place particular emphasis on the roll-out of the public complaints functions and the new Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal and on the early introduction of Legal Partnerships and of Limited Liability Partnerships. And I wish to commend the Law Society and its members and staff for their ongoing constructive engagement on these matters.
Of course another matter with which all of us are engaging at some level at the moment - is Brexit.
From the government’s point of view, the priority is to maintain a resolute focus on our negotiating priorities… priorities such as minimising its impact on our economy, protecting our Peace Process; maintaining the Common Travel Area, and influencing and shaping the future of the European Union.
And our work complements I know, the work which is being done, with our support, by the Law Society, the Council of the Bar of Ireland and IDA Ireland. It is being done to exploit the competitive advantage that can accrue to Ireland and to its renowned justice system as an English-speaking, EU Member State, in a post-Brexit setting. Our shared objective in this endeavour is to ensure that such advantages fall to you, the next generation of Irish lawyers.
Because every new generation, in every profession, is handed some advantages. Yes of course there are challenges, but there are opportunities too. As I said, we have a unique and universally recognised status as an established Common Law jurisdiction of the highest reputation. You now join the legal professions as builders and custodians of that reputation and champions of its competitive advantage.
But while that competitive advantage will likely bring you the opportunity to get much from your new profession, I think it’s important to emphasise too, what you can give. I am very aware of the wider contribution that the Law Society and its members make to the community. Alongside its more obvious engagement with the judicial system, this is very evident in its frequent submissions on matters of legal reform that come up for public consultation across all of Government. I very much appreciate the Society’s contributions, alongside that of the Council of the Bar, the King’s Inns and our active judiciary, to the broader reform of the law.
In taking your Parchments in hand you will be bringing new eyes to those issues of reform that we face on an ongoing basis. I therefore encourage you to continue to engage in supporting such reform in the best traditions of the Law Society over the years ahead.
But from the years ahead, to the years just passed… can I just finish by looking back, and acknowledging on your behalf those directly engaged in the provision of your professional education and training.. the many people of special calling who bring out the best of every student in their care, year by year, module by module. You know who they are …. I hope they know who they are, and I hope you will allow me thank them now on your behalf.
And of course, the other people I would like to thank and pay tribute to, again on your behalf, are your long suffering and supportive families and parents. When there is serious study going on, family members can be over-wrought on occasion, they can even be over-drawn on occasion, but hopefully it all feels worth it today – and I suspect every single family member here is rightly proud of you - their Parchment recipient. They know you are a credit to them.
Indeed you are a credit to all of us. In a very real sense, the Law Society and the parents, families and friends gathered with you here today are renewed testimony to the shared values that we hold dear as a society and a constitutional democracy. And those values are now being passed on to you, a new generation who, in taking up your Parchments, carry the torch of those values forward.
In that spirit, I congratulate you of being conferred with your Parchments this evening. And I wish you and your families every personal and professional success for the future.