Belfast Telegraph

Why we should value lawyers' vital economic contribution

Legal Feature

Ian Huddleston, president of the Law Society

I began my presidency of the Law Society of Northern Ireland in November 2016 in what seems like a year of seismic change. Brexit and the impact of the US elections has fed into a sense of uncertainty about the future.

Unfortunately this sense of uncertainty is locally pervasive in its implications for the Northern Ireland economy and heightened by the uncertainty which exists surrounding the future of our political institutions. The solicitor profession in Northern Ireland is certainly not immune from the sense of uncertainty which prevails both for our clients and for our own businesses.

As president of the Law Society of Northern Ireland I am all too aware of the challenges and threats which face our members on a daily basis.

Solicitor practices have always operated in a changing social, economic and legal environment which by necessity requires them to be responsive and adaptable.

While acknowledging the challenges and threats which exist the Law Society continues to be positive about the future of the solicitor profession and their ability to steer clients through these uncertain times.

Independent research commissioned by the Law Society in 2016 indicated that 78% of those sampled valued their local solicitor and regarded them as an integral part of their local community.

This research reflects the ongoing commitment and work of solicitors throughout Northern Ireland who continue to provide legal services, advice and support to clients, businesses and the most vulnerable within the local community. By its nature this type of work is often unseen, unheard or publicised but it is vital to both the economy and society more generally.

Few will talk of the contribution of solicitor firms to the Northern Ireland economy, much less try to quantify it, yet as local businesses, service providers and employers their contribution is substantial.

The ongoing commitment of the legal profession to seeking new business opportunities was apparent internationally with an economic trade mission to Washington in September 2016 organised by Invest NI and supported by the Law Society, which showcased Northern Ireland legal services to potential investors.

As a result of the Law Society's ongoing international connections the International Bar Association (IBA) will be hosting its mid-year meeting in Belfast in May 2017.

Over 300 international leaders of the legal profession will attend the four-day conference which will provide an opportunity to present Northern Ireland to a global legal audience.

This conference and other international engagement underscores the commitment of the solicitor community to actively supporting the Northern Ireland economy and the work done to establish global links and securing foreign direct investment.

The society's ongoing outreach and engagement strategy is manifest in the translation of 36 information leaflets into foreign languages an acknowledgement of the changing nature of our community.

Recently at Stormont the Dispute Resolution Service (DRS), which is administered by the Law Society, was publicised to a variety of business organisations and consumer groups.

The DRS offers local businesses and consumers access to professionally trained lawyer mediators who can assist in achieving a meditated solution to legal problems in a way which can save the time, expense and stress of going to court.

What has been described is but a small snapshot of some of the positive and ongoing work of the Law Society of Northern Ireland.

It reflects and underscores the commitment of solicitors to our community, to the rights of our clients and to meeting the legal needs of business and individuals.

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