The new president of the Law Society yesterday accepted his medal of office and was immediately threatened with legal action and accused of bringing the profession into disrepute by a leading woman solicitor.
Martin Mears, the anti-establishment candidate who was elected in the society's first presidential ballot for more than 40 years, admitted in his first address to the Law Society yesterday that his election opponents and himself had not "always been the best of friends".
One of those opponents, Eileen Pembridge, was openly criticised in his address. He told the gathering at the society's Chancery Lane headquarters in London, that the more he "listened to Eileen Pembridge, who must now surely be recognised as the most dangerous feminist in England, the more I found myself in profound disagreement with her".
Although a degree of praise followed for Ms Pembridge, Mr Mears added: "If she ended up a loser, that was not because she failed to fight like a man."
Following the remarks, which clearly angered her and her supporters, Ms Pembridge said: "He trespasses on my patience and tolerance ... I'm going to have to take some action." Mr Mears, a partner with a Great Yarmouth firm, was elected on a manifesto promising to axe bureaucracy and to "listen to ordinary solicitors". He is a right-wing outsider far removed from the Star Chamber hierarchy who traditionally expect unopposed succession rather than election for their presidency.
Ms Pembridge, although sitting on a number of prominent Law Society internal committees, upset her own hierarchy by assisting in exposing the reprimand of John Young, the society's former deputy vice-president, over incidents of sexual harassment. Mr Young was due to have taken over as president this year.
Her intervention, which occurred only after Mr Mears had issued a formal challenge for the top job, nevertheless resulted in Mr Young's withdrawal from the presidential contest.
After taking office Mr Mears said: "No one expects the next 12 months to be dull. We have crucially important negotiations ahead with the Government over legal aid and other matters." The other matters may, however, include himself.
Ms Pembridge said: "Yet again Martin Mears fails to understand half of his profession - namely women."