Mears branded 'unfit' by lawyer

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Criticisms of the beleaguered Law Society President Martin Mears reached new heights yesterday when a high-profile former leader branded Mr Mears and his deputy Robert Sayer unsuitable to lead the profession and accused them of doing it positive harm.

The onslaught from Rodger Pannone, a leading personal- injury lawyer who was president two years ago, comes three weeks before elections to the top jobs in the society, which regulates the country's 70,000 solicitors. It ranks as the most outspoken contribution yet to the factional war sparked by Mr Mears's election last July. The bitterness of the divisions that have opened up with Mr Mears's pledge to shake up the "old guard" and boost conveyancers' incomes are unprecendented in the history of the society. Mr Mears, however, dismissed the latest attack as "nothing new".

Mr Pannone told a press conference that Mr Mears should not be "rubbished" for having shaken up the existing structure. But in a statement, Mr Pannone said: "I have been reluctant to voice criticisms publicly ... The current president of the Law Society, Mr Mears, and his vice-president Mr Sayer have not been so constrained.

"Their public statements and desire to stay in office have resulted in a political regime which is unedifying and which could well debase the good name of the Law Society.

"Through lack of meaningful dialogue, the Law Society has for the past 10 months begun to lose the respect of the decision-makers and opinion- formers in government, the political parties, the judiciary, the Bar and the wider national and international legal and commercial communities."

Mr Pannone said his efforts to explain the reasons for his opposition had been met with "personal vilification from sources close to the president". Outsiders viewed the activities of the Law Society as a "humourless farce", he added.

Mr Mears said yesterday: "This sort of cry of pain and indignation we have been hearing from our opponents since the beginning. There's nothing new here.

"I am subjected to this unremitting campaign of vilification and disinformation, yet when I go round local law societies I am well, and enthusiastically, received."