Is this the worst job in the country?

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A Falklands veteran heads a list of candidates for what is arguably the toughest job in the country - chief of staff at the embattled Law Society.

Major-general Michael Scott saw action at the Battle of Tumbledown during the Falklands War, a conflict perhaps only marginally more bitter than the internecine struggles plaguing the Law Society.

So poisonous is the atmosphere that the society has already been through six head hunters. It is also offering a £150,000 salary and perks such as free membership of a gym.

Already this year, its vice president Kamlesh Bahl has resigned after being suspended from her post for bullying staff. Ms Bahl then raised the temperature still further by suing the society for race and sex discrimination while at the same time accusing its current president Robert Sayer of bullying her.

The Independent on Sunday understands headhunters have already drawn up a shortlist of possible candidates for the new post of chief executive ahead of a £5,000 advertising campaign with the general as favourite.

Since his retirement from the forces, he has been in charge of handling complaints against barristers.

His appointment would certainly shake up the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, and instil a discipline that has been all too obviously lacking.

General Scott is believed to be the only non-lawyer among a list of solicitors interested in the high-profile post. Two other contenders are Henry Hodge, a former neighbour of the Blairs and husband of Labour minister, Margaret Hodge, and George Staple, a former director of the Serious Fraud Office. A prominent New Labour solicitor, also believed to be on the list, said most people regard the post as a "suicide mission."

General Scott said yesterday he would need to be "heavily persuaded" to lead the Society's 800 staff, but added: "The key is to find a non-lawyer who carries no baggage and comes with a clean sheet."

In an attempt to make the post more palatable, the Law Society has changed the job description from secretary-general to chief executive and thrown in a generous pension and a travel season ticket loan as well as the place at a local gym.

Against this, candidates must weigh the fact that the public's opinion of solicitors has never been lower while staff morale at the Law Society has hit rock bottom. The future of the Law Society has reached a critical point.

Complaints against solicitors soared to a record high of 20,352 in 1999, leading to speculation that the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, will soon be forced to use special powers to intervene and sort out the crisis himself.

One of the first jobs facing the new chief executive will be to ensure the profession meets Lord Irvine's deadline for reducing the backlog of complaints to 6,000 by the end of the year.

But first he or she must sort out the Law Society itself. Ms Bahl's suspension follows an inquiry which found in favour of five senior members of staff who accused Ms Bahl of bullying. One of the five, the Society's director of policy, Russell Wallman, has only recently returned to work after suffering stress following his treatment under Ms Bahl.

In turn, Ms Bahl has accused Mr Sayer, the president, of bullying her by alleging that he was responsible for an attempt to have her removed from office when the allegations against her first surfaced. Mr Sayer vehemently denies this.

Ms Bahl's legal team, led by the Prime Minister's wife, Cherie Booth QC, has obtained a transcript of an interview between Mr Sayer and the radio psychiatrist, Anthony Clare, during a confessional session at the Law Society Conference at Disneyland, Paris.

The tape, in which Mr Sayer admits to shouting at staff, is expected to form part of the evidence given to an employment tribunal later this year. The estimated costs of the whole debacle have already reached £500,000.

Mr Sayer's determination to capitalise on Ms Bahl's downfall by standing for an unprecedented second term of office, despite opposition from the Law Society council, is expected to bring further public opprobrium on the profession.

Then there's the prospect of a solicitors' strike over legal aid payments and battles with the Bar over rights of audience in court. All in a day's work for a major-general.