More trying times ahead

The Law Society could be in for a long, hot summer and a possible repeat of last year's bad-tempered elections.

In the previously genteel world of the law, an already simmering internecine battle is set to flare up. This summer is likely to see a showdown between the two diametrically opposed, openly hostile groups who each claim to represent the interests and wishes of ordinary solicitors. The issue is likely to be resolved (at least temporarily) by a rerun of last year's unprecedented and bad-tempered Law Society elections.

The catalyst for this unseemly squabbling is in the shape of the previously unknown Great Yarmouth solicitor Martin Mears and his sidekick Robert Sayer. Mr Mears and Mr Sayer did the unthinkable last year, when they stood against the society's officially endorsed candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency, respectively, forcing a general election within the profession. The duo's manifesto was simple: the society had become too big and too dictatorial; it should return to putting the interests of its members first and last. The size of their subsequent victory indicated strong support for such a shamelessly trade union approach, which was a reversal of the "enlightened self-interest" the socicty had adopted in recent years.

Now, however, Mr Mears's claim to speak for the rank and file - 11,000 of whom voted for him last year - is being challenged. A "Campaign for New Leadership" of the society has been launched by a group of 20 solicitors from around the country with the sole aim of getting shot of Mr Mears and Mr Sayer

Kevin Martin, the campaign chairman, who hails from a two-partner firm near Coventry, says: "We are exactly the sort of people who might be perceived as typical Mears supporters - but we're not and, with one exception, never have been."

The group is urging candidates to come forward to oppose Mr Mears and Mr Sayer in an election this year. Mr Martin claims that, since taking office a year ago, the pair have wasted the profession's money, achieved nothing and generated the worst spate of bad publicity in the society's history.

Mr Mears, however, is undaunted by the development. He scoffs at the group's claim to be what he terms "ordinary housewives". They are not grassroots at all but "establishment hacks" and "local Law Society groupies", he says. Mr Mears bases his conclusion on the fact that, according to him, at least two of them are past presidents or secretaries of local law societies, one is a governor of the College of Law and another "had some media training here recently".

While his logic here may be somewhat hard to follow, it is true that the campaign may not be quite the spontaneous uprising of the proletariat it claims to be. The material it is circulating smacks of having sources from within Chancery Lane, and it would be naive to believe Mr Mears's Law Society foes have had no hand in its formation.

This is something apparently tacitly acknowledged by Kevin Martin. "We are the tip of the iceberg. The opposition to Mears covers a very considerable spectrum of the profession, which does mean there are some people involved who are more 'Establishment' than we are."

Not, of course, that there is necessarily anything wrong with putting at the forefront of the campaign those who may best be able to fight Mr Mears on the "grassroots" turf he has tried to make his own.

However, the real test of whether the Campaign for New Leadership is, in fact, a campaign for a return to the old leadership will largely depend on exactly who steps forward to oppose Mr Mears. Mr Martin says there are a number of candidates whom the campaign would be happy to endorse, one of whom is the current deputy vice-president, Tony Girling.

Whatever Mr Girling's undoubted abilities, there are fears in some quarters that he will be an easy opponent for Mr Mears to pick off. A long-standing and senior council member, Mr Girling is bound to suffer from guilt by association with the old regime. Given that he was the council's nominee for the deputy vice-presidency last year (when he declared that he looked forward to implementing council policics "which we know are sound"), he will inevitably be labelled a creature of the council. As one observer says, his candidature may be taken as proof that the society wants to ignore the widespread unhappiness Mr Mears's election has exposed and return to business as usual. Buggins is back, in other words.

This is something that Kevin Martin acknowledges, but he insists that "just because someone appears to be Buggins doesn't mean he isn't the right man for the job".

Whoever does eventually stand, the election campaign is likely to be bloody. We have already had a taster of what to expect in the shape of a bizarre and probably libellous "election briefing" paper, sent anonymously to some newspaper offices. Among other things, the paper purports to reveal the innermost thoughts of Mr Mears's potential opponents. (It insists, for example that a leading council member, whom it names, has "undergone a personality change" and "instead of being amiable and shrewd is now petulant and odd".)

Although the paper has been universally condemned, one society insider warns to expect more of the same. "There is a kind of anarchy setting in," he says.

If that is the case, the victor may find himself presiding over a rather smaller Law Society than might have been hoped. The City, which has traditionally been indifferent to the activities of the society, is "at the end of its patience", according to one of its number. "There is a lot of talk at the moment about big City firms getting their own insurance and regulating themselves, if the Law Society doesn't pull itself together," she says.

Of course, it is still not clear if there will be an election at all. Mr Mears, however, insists that if he is defeated, he will be a gracious loser. If the victor is an "outsider president", Mr Mears would do for his successor what nobody did for him when he took office, and try to warn him of potential pitfalls. "And then I would stand against him the following year," he adds.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there