President of the Law Society, President of the High Court, members of the judiciary and distinguished guests –
This is one of the truly delightful perks of Ministerial office. I can’t remember who it was who described politics as “a cruel trade” but whoever it was missed out on occasions like this, when the Minister gets to be part of the collective celebration of individual achievement.
And an important achievement, at that.
The roll of parchment has a significance stretching back into history and forward into what I hope will be happy, productive and demanding careers.
It comes as a result of lot of hard work by very clever people.
But hidden behind all the brainpower and the hard work are families, parents and friends of those receiving their Parchments today. The cheerleaders and the cheerer-uppers. The support system and the safety net. Parents, friends and families are heavily represented here today. They’re hugely welcome. And they deserve a round of applause all to themselves.
The Law Society is the force behind the professional formation of solicitors in this country. That benefits the administration of justice and of the community at large.
But of course, the Law Society does a lot more than train and educate solicitors.
It makes a major and continuing contribution, mirroring that of the Bar Council, to the modernisation and reform of the law in key areas of policy concern and to the enhancement of the legal system in its interaction with citizens. It is an influential and powerful body, representing some of the best thinking in Ireland. As Minister for Justice, I anticipate that I’ll sometimes be so happy to see that thinking deployed, and sometimes I’ll be so unhappy.
And that’s as it should be, given the times that are in it.
The times that are in it are times of such great challenge and change that they’re a bit reminiscent of Alice Through the Looking Glass. Remember when Alice was headed down the garden and the next thing the path sort of shook itself and landed her right back where she had come from?
The career path for many lawyers and other professionals, over the past few years, has behaved very like Alice’s path.
This has been driven substantially by the downward cost pressures of the global economic crisis. It’s great to see evidence on all sides that we’re now emerging from that crisis. The path may have settled down again, but it’s settled down leaving a much more empowered and informed community of consumers. It’s settled down in a radically changed context, particularly when it comes to social communications networks.
As you will be aware, part of the Government’s response to the challenges of this new and challenging legal services environment is to be found in the Legal Services Regulation Bill which is to commence Report Stage in the Dáil on 17th July. This Bill represents not only a modernisation of the legal costs and legal services regimes augmented by an independent professional conduct regime for both solicitors and barristers, but also represents new opportunities in the way legal services can be provided.
At the same time, I recognise the need to maintain the integrity and high standards of the legal professions in the introduction of any new measures under the Bill. To that end I am engaged, along with officials of my Department, in ongoing consultations with the Law Society, the Bar Council, the King’s Inns and other stake-holders by way of avoiding any unintended outcomes and by way of optimising the Bill, its benefits and its impacts on legal practitioner and client alike.
A word to the people who leave here today, clutching their parchments…
You face a world of uncertainty. Your career path may buck and weave like the path in Lewis Carroll’s book. But you’re ahead of the posse – you’re already part of that new generation of lawyers who go to work on tablets even on days that don’t start with a headache.
You’re now ready to shape the future of your profession and to further enhance the legal system. As well as being a mark of your professionalism and high standards, the parchment you have received today is your franchise to shape that future.
From the outside, the Law can look like a great, threatening, unchanging monolith.
I know it is a constantly changing and infinitely rewarding process that hugely influences Irish thought and action. I hope that’s what it turns out to be, for each and every one of you.