The law: shaken not stirred

Law Society president Martin Mears may claim to be a radical but a ginger group has been thinking the unthinkable to reform the legal profession . Stephen Ward reports

The big fight at this week's Law Society special council meeting will be over a bid by the president, Martin Mears, to swing the balance of power away from the secretariat to the elected officials, notably the president, and his attempt to drag the council behind fixed conveyancing fees. The tussle will be enlivened by a discussion behind closed doors of an pounds 80,000 golden handshake negotiated by the secretary-general, John Hayes, with the director of the troubled Solicitors' Complaints Bureau, Veronica Lowe, to be paid whenever the society gets round to deciding on the bureau's future.

Meanwhile, probably a more helpful contribution to the debate has been circulating for more than a month inside the Law Society. It is thoughtful and provocative, and given that the authors' careers have been within the society, a brave document. It was written by a think-tank called the Ginger Group, set up in 1989 by Mr Hayes, and is made up of Law Society staff at all levels, including some from the Solicitors' Complaints Bureau.

"Our role is to think the unthinkable and to consider issues that are of general concern but are not necessarily within the remit of particular committees, departments or working parties ... Our reports are designed to be provocative and to stimulate discussion," the group says.

The group has drawn up a Swot (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of the Law Society and the legal profession, which challenges not only the populist, "trade unionist" approach of the new president, but the comfortable, complacent-seeming establishment of the Law Society.

Its critical gaze has produced the following:

Strengths:

l The society remains the major delegated statutory authority for solicitors.

l It retains 100 per cent membership despite all threats.

l Improved performance and experience in many fields in the past five years.

l It is the largest legal professional governing body in Europe and the envy of many others.

l A respected authority on law reform and other matters on which it is consulted.

Weaknesses:

l Relationship between the society and members has apparently worsened, focusing attention on (poor) communication with the membership and the accountability of the society to members.

l Failure to lift rapidly the regulatory burden; it is essential to introduce self-regulation and regulation by firms where this is possible.

l The press and public image of solicitors is dominated by the image of high-earning City firms.

l An increased polarisation between City and high-street practitioners.

l An expensive, unpopular and burdensome complaints procedure, disliked by the profession and consumers.

l The society's failure to respond to the profession because resources are limited, and lines and methods of communication are poor.

l Failure to make progress towards working with and eventually subsuming the Bar and its work.

l The society's services are too often planned on the basis that there will be a constant base of income. This assumes that the profession as a whole will continue to pay basic fees; this assumption could be wrong.

l Poor accountability of the society's basic structures.

l Failure of the society to develop more successful quasi-commercial ventures and to market both the profession and the society sufficiently well.

l The profession's failure to respond quickly to consumer demands; information on charging; quality and consistency of service; communication skills.

l Many small units of practice which are vulnerable to competition or can lead to poor management and standards leading to complaints and possible failure.

Opportunities:

l If and when the time is right, to take over or offer services to other regulatory bodies.

l Develop alternative strategies for the Bar; to work with the Bar, to erode the Bar's monopoly; to utilise the superior facilities of the society to work with or take over the Bar.

l Make multidisciplinary practices attractive to solicitors.

l Reduce the costs of the society to the solicitor by slimming down or hiving off.

l Encourage better practice management techniques in the profession.

l Develop the concept of self-financing of services to reduce or cease subsidy of the minority in the profession by the majority.

l Direct policies and democratic structures to represent not only solicitors in private practice but also those in employment.

l Take the lead in setting up a European Lawyers' Association.

l Identify a role for the society on law and justice issues.

l Review how other professional bodies have reacted or are reacting to the polarisation of their profession into regulatory and representational roles.

Threats:

l A non-unified profession in the future. The challengers are: multidisciplinary practices (accountants) and American firms. Possible threats from probate practitioners, licensed conveyancers, paralegals. These bodies may poach members because they offer a quicker and cheaper route to qualification. This will reduce income support and influence, with consequential effects on the society's activities.

l From organisations which may in future be authorised to provide legal services and thus be an alternative to the society.

l To Legal Aid, sole practitioner and small practices which rely on single sources of decreasingly remunerative work.

l Lack of ability to unify the profession where necessary, such as to stop some solicitors offering cut-price conveyancing.

l Other regulatory bodies exerting partial control over solicitors.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Life and Style
tech

Company says data is only collected under 'temporary' identities that are discarded every 15 minutes

News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Life and Style
health

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Senior Pensions Administrator

    £23000 - £26000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Administrator

    £25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Admini...

    Customer Service Executive / Inbound Customer Service Agent

    £18 - 23k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Customer Service Executiv...

    ASP.NET Web Developer / .NET Developer

    £60 - 65k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a ASP.NET Web Developer / ....

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album