Law: The importance of being earnest: Local law societies are trying to improve the image of solicitors. Sharon Wallach reports

SIMON MUMFORD is a self-styled poacher turned gamekeeper. A partner with the Cardiff firm Rausa Mumford, he admits that he was at one time a 'fairly outspoken critic' of the Law Society.

He believed - justifiably, he says - that it lacked guidance and was poorly run. He is now a member of its public relations advisory board (PRAB).' The Law Society has got its act together,' he says. 'Local law societies are involved in decision-making; at last we have a voice.'

The society this week announced the setting-up of a Welsh regional office - a co-operative venture with local law societies. North-Western and Eastern regional offices have been in operation for some time.

'We had always intended extending the regional programme,' says Jonathan Goldsmith, deputy head of the society's communications division. 'There is a commitment in principle by the strategy committee for more regional offices, but their timing is clearly a question of economics.'

Local law societies in England and Wales - there are 127 - are independent of the solicitors' professional body, and are, says Mr Goldsmith, different things in different areas. In the major cities, they tend to be well-funded organisations, with paid staff.

'They handle complaints, run training programmes and conferences, make concerted efforts on issues with public relations and parliamentary angles, and there is almost invariably a social programme too,' Mr Goldsmith says. 'They are very good at replying to consultations on professional policy, and making sure their members' views are heard.'

Medium-sized local societies are also very helpful on professional consultations, usually have social events, and may run training. The very small societies are often no more than social networks for local solicitors, says Mr Goldsmith. According to Mr Mumford, the local societies 'do a vital job and have become far more professional', and he believes they are playing an increasingly important role in promoting a positive image of solicitors.

'People are realising that PR is very important in encouraging the public to see that we are efficient, caring professionals who do a damn good job.'

For the last eight years, he has acted as secretary of Cardiff Law Society, the largest local grouping in Wales and is also its public relations officer. 'So many people have entrenched views about solicitors. My job is to come over as approachable, a caring person who understands problems because he has had them himself.'

He is the 'legal eagle' on Radio Wales' Streetlife programme and a legal spokesman for HTV. 'If I could get a regular contract, I would give up the law,' he says, not entirely in jest. 'It's not an easy time to be a solicitor. You have to work very hard and it's vital that the public sees that most solicitors are not making huge fortunes.'

Mr Mumford joined the PRAB just over a year ago. The role of the board is to co- ordinate and direct the activities of the local law societies' public relations and parliamentary liaison officers (PROs and PLOs). It was set up 18 months ago, with a direct channel to the society's council via the strategy committee, to which it reports on PR, professional and parliamentary issues.

'The aim is, ultimately, for all local MPs to be shadowed by the PLOs, and for there to be one PRO per local radio or TV station or local newspaper,' says Sue Stapely, head of the society's press and parliamentary unit and a member of the PRAB.

Other help offered centrally includes media training and parliamentary liaison advice. PROs are circulated with Law Society press releases - 'if possible before they see them in the national press', Sue Stapely says - and briefings on all parliamentary work with local interest.

Another member of the PRAB is Penny Raby, a partner with the Huddersfield firm Armitage Sykes & Hinchcliffe.

'Things have changed dramatically in the past five years,' she says. 'Then lawyers didn't know the difference between advertising and PR and were negative about both. Now, they are still negative about advertising, but extremely in favour of PR, because they have seen the effect it can have. Lawyers are gradually becoming aware of the need to improve public perception.'

Ms Raby is the PRO for the Yorkshire Union of Law Societies, co-ordinating the PR efforts of the county's societies, and acting as a conduit from and to the Law Society in London. The role of local law societies, she says, is to promote the general image of solicitors, rather than that of a specific firm or type of lawyer.

The importance of improving public perceptions is what drew Catherine Iliff to the world of local law society public relations. 'I became involved because solicitors get such a bad press and I feel very strongly about it,' says Ms Iliff, a partner with the Norwich firm Fosters.

'You don't hear much about solicitors putting in a lot of work and long hours and doing a good job. As a profession, we are good at hiding our lantern.'

Local law societies have a dual role, Ms Iliff believes. 'They co-ordinate and disseminate information for solicitors, make representations to the central Law Society,' she says. 'They also co-ordinate local needs and express opinions, both to the Law Society and to the local press.'

Andrew Shaw is a partner with the London firm Baileys Shaw & Gillett. He doubles as parliamentary and press officer for Holborn Law Society, which has some 1,000 members.

'A local law society is a quasi trade union,' he says, 'as well as an arena for monitoring developments and changes in the law, and passing on members' responses to relevant bodies.

'We also offer administrative help to the Law Society, following up cases of failure to renew practising certificates, for instance.'

Together with the neighbouring City and Westminster societies, Holborn runs training seminars. It also attempts to place people in articles, and circulates information about jobs for assistant solicitors. In common with other local societies, Holborn undertakes pro bono work, in this case as a trustee of the local Mary Ward Centre, a law centre near Great Ormond Street. Mr Shaw's own firm is among those sending trainee solicitors to work at the centre.

Mr Shaw is appreciative of the support offered by the PRAB, citing in particular the media training. 'It is very helpful,' he says. 'We all have to learn to communicate with the public far better than we do now.'

(Photograph omitted)

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Arts and Entertainment
Pink Floyd on stage at Live 8 in 2005. From left to right: David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright
music New album The Endless River set to overtake boyband for most pre-ordered of all-time
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink