Meeting the challenges and realising the opportunities
The solicitor profession in Northern Ireland remains at the forefront of making a significant contribution to economic growth and activity in Northern Ireland.
As providers of legal services, as major employers in cities and towns, as purchasers' of goods and services, as exporters of specialist legal services and support around the world the solicitor profession works to support the local economy and the community.
As with many other professions in the United Kingdom and elsewhere it has been affected by change.
Change in the form of technological advancements, increasing competition, new areas of law, a more discerning and demanding client base and increased financial demands provide greater challenges for local solicitor practices.
Coupled with this issues surrounding the outworking's of Brexit, the enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), the ongoing threats from cybercrime, the absence of a local Assembly all serve to confirm that we are, as the saying goes, living life in interesting times.
The salient feature of the history of the solicitor profession in Northern Ireland has been its ability to embrace the changes which are affecting it, to meet the challenges and to realise the opportunities which lie ahead.
The solicitor profession is undoubtedly adapting to meet the needs and expectations of clients in an ever changing legal and technological environment in which they now practice.
Such is the rate of change that technology not only presents new challenges but also great opportunities in the practice of law.
Few would have thought that within the space of twenty years legal documents could be retained as e-documents on Icloud, meetings with clients held via the web and access to legal information more readily available and accessible via online portals and websites.
Whilst technology has removed distance and improved communication it has also opened up a new areas of law defined by those who misuse social media and the internet.
This development has witnessed the emergence of a new type of solicitor skilled in the knowledge and expertise of the law surrounding online technologies.
The rate of change in the practice of law in Northern Ireland can also be seen in the increase in the number of professionally trained solicitors offering mediation services and an increasing demand from local businesses and clients for accredited dispute resolution services.
Change is also taking place within solicitor firms as traditional business models are replaced by new client and service focussed practices in an increasingly competitive sector.
Whilst change is occurring the role and the function of the solicitor remains very much the same that of offering legal advice and services on key issues of importance to businesses and to clients.
It is therefore not surprising that on issues surrounding Brexit, the implementation of GDPR and impact of cyber-crime it is the solicitor profession who remain at the very epicentre of the issues, the discussions, the support and the legal resolutions.
It is a strong, independent, diverse and effective solicitor profession which will contribute to building a strong economy and playing a critical role in the wider justice system in Northern Ireland.
For its part the Law Society as the professional body for solicitors, will continue to be supportive of its members as they meet the challenges and seize the opportunities ahead in support of clients and the community in Northern Ireland.
- Eileen Ewing is President of the Law Society of Northern Ireland