People & Business: Sir Dennis's brief advice

BATTERED AND bruised by accusations of fat-cattery and ambulance chasing, the embattled Law Society has found a saviour in the form of Sir Dennis Stevenson, the chairman of Pearson and all-round Government troubleshooter.

Lawyers may not be the most popular people at the moment, enjoying a status almost as low as journalists in the public mind. Yet the Law Society's reputation is even more wretched, in that most of the big City firms have lost patience with it over professional indemnity insurance and the like.

So serious has the position become that Jane Betts, the Society's secretary general, felt compelled to call in Sir Dennis to come up with a solution.

Thus it was that a fortnight ago Sir Dennis addressed the council of the Society at a top secret "awayday" meeting. His advice was succinct: out should go the fat bureaucracy (the Society has around 140 committees and sub-committees) and in should come a dynamic chairman backed by a small executive committee.

Sir Dennis also urged the Society to scrap the frequent meetings of its 75-strong council, which are required to rubber-stamp the Society's actions. Instead the Society should model itself on a successful law firm or company.

This is just the latest bit of "firefighting" Sir Dennis has been up to. He was famously parachuted into GPA, the aircraft leasing business that nearly went belly up in the recession. He is particularly interested in IT and education and personally advises Tony Blair on these issues.

Mind you, colleagues of Sir Dennis are at pains to stress that he is no mere "Labour luvvie". He once worked for Peter Walker (now Baron Walker of Worcester) when the latter was a Conservative minister. On the other hand, a notorious "wet" like Mr Walker would be considered far too dangerously left wing for Mr Blair's cabinet.

LOVELY PEOPLE, lawyers. Susan Midha of Manches & Co, a City law firm, is advising betrothed couples to put a Last Will and Testament among the toasters, linen and glassware on their wedding lists.

Ms Midha, personal estate planning partner, says: "Although putting a Will on your wedding list can look a little morbid, we thinks it is an essential element for newlyweds in planning their future personal and financial affairs."

Taking this idea to its logical conclusion, perhaps Manches should link up with some undertakers and offer a one-stop funeral service...

SURFING THROUGH one of my favourite accountancy websites ("AccountingWeb"), as one does, I noticed this fable about the vagaries of VAT. It concerns a VAT-registered baker who makes a tiered wedding cake.

If the bride's mother collects it from the shop the cake becomes "zero- rated" for VAT purposes. If the bride's mother hasn't time to attend to this and asks the baker to deliver it and set it up at the reception, the same cake becomes standard-rated.

Now, if the baker forgot to put the little bride-and-groom model on top, so the bride's mother buys the models from the baker where the cake was made, the cake reverts to being standard-rated.

Had the baker not forgotten the models they would have been - you've guessed it - zero-rated. An exciting subject, VAT, I think you'll agree.

A BOOK that promises to advise you on "the best way to conduct an office romance, cope with redundancy, ring in sick and even how to handle those embarrassing moments in the lift" has just emerged from the word processor of Neasa MacErlean, price pounds 9.95. Being a reporter on the Observer, I'm sure she's got plenty of first-hand experience to draw on...

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