Rivals put their cases: let you be the judge

As voting in the Law Society's first contested presidential election for years approaches an end, the three candidates offer their visions of the future
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The Independent Online
Henry Hodge

'My record of service best qualifies me to lead the profession'

There are three key roles for the Law Society: it must promote the integrity of solicitors and the status of the profession; ensure the best possible service to clients; and help to maintain good standards of remuneration. It needs a president who will be respected and taken seriously by the profession, by consumers, by the business community and in Westminster and Whitehall.

My record of service best qualifies me to lead the profession at a time when we face major change. I have developed my own legal firm over 17 years. Through the Eighties, I served on the legal aid and social security advisory committees, advising government on legal aid and social policy issues. I have chaired my local CAB. During my time on the Law Society Council, I have chaired committees and helped to promote reform of the profession and its practices.

The best advertisement for solicitors is for us to give the best quality of service to our clients so we can win and keep their trust.

My programme of reform and change will achieve that. Solicitors are adapting to a changing world. I believe I can best unite the profession to help it meet the challenges ahead.

Eileen Pembridge

'I hope to revitalise the society by breaking with the past'

I entered the election determined to challenge the vicious spiral whereby the longest-serving or the least innovatory or the best-behaved fought without a platform or a mandate for the ceremonial reward. The council system seemed unable to represent the profession as it is (youngish, employed, female), or to lead on change, or to excite support. Neither the council nominee who stood down nor the one who replaced him can offer a credible way out of that complacency and compromise.

I believe I have been consistent throughout. Mr Mears has campaigned with spiteful rhetoric, while visibly losing faith in his early "proposals" as they are shown to be either unlawful, impossible or plain daft. Mr Hodge started with his "don't worry, trust us" speech, but he has recently been taken in hand and brought on board the modernising programme which I alone had been carrying to the electorate till then. I am now subjected to a campaign of marginalisation based on disinformation as to what I stand for.

I hope to revitalise the society by breaking with the past and bringing fresh energy and purpose to a mandate for modernisation and vigorous defence of our strengths.

Martin Mears

'The society is perceived as aloof, bumbling and bureaucratic'

Aloof, bumbling and bureaucratic: that is how the Law Society is perceived. It has lost the confidence of the profession. Ordinary solicitors see it as a stern regulator, formidable to them but not to anyone else.

A crisis of confidence can only be resolved by an election in which the electorate has the chance to choose new people with new policies. The society's official candidates are old faces closely identified with old failed policies. They do not stand on their record. If they did, they would obtain no support at all.

They pretend to be reformists. But few will be deceived. Solicitors know only too well what their problems are: an ever more crowded profession, lower fees, longer working hours, a crushing burden of practising expenses - all hard to bear when the public continues to regard them as fat cats.

The Law Society is unpopular because for years it has failed even to recognise the problems, let alone find solutions to them. If the electorate were able to do so, it would send the whole Chancery Lane establishment packing. As it is, it will have to content itself with rejecting the official presidential and vice-presidential candidates. This it will surely do.