January 1, 2005

The Law Society, so the perception goes, is out of touch, irrelevant to the vast majority of solicitors and their firms and generally just not very good. The Big Question (Legal Week 28 June) as much as said so. In a survey, the survey said “unimpressive”, “negligible” and other predictable things.

Now I suppose we should add to the list of critical comment, expensive and out of touch, and not very good at industrial tribunals either.

But is any of this fair today, or are we just recycling criticisms and prejudices we have heard before and repeating them now because they must be true? There is a word for this and it is not very becoming of lawyers of all people.

I write as someone who in the past has been a very vocal critic. In the past I have felt the organisation lacked focus, misunderstood the privilege and benefit that self-regulation brings and missed opportunities to invest for the benefit of the profession. In the past the Law Society was riddled with dissension, had a poverty of leadership and was guileless. There comes a point however when to criticise is just too easy and is almost lazy. Let us bash the Law Society once more, it is good sport and no one will challenge us. The fact is however that the profession has got the Law Society it deserves. It is a reflection of the profession. It is, after all, just a society of solicitors doing things in our name and on our behalf. Do we really care so little about our profession that we are prepared only to call it names? Surely there are men and woman out there who care more than this?

Having been a vocal critic, and on occasions I am still criticising, I also decided to get involved. I have been a Council member for two years and I can tell you the winds of change are howling through the corridors of Chancery Lane.

The outgoing President, Michael Napier, has done a great job and the team behind him, with the new Chief Executive are doing a great job too. I have heard it said that the reforms of the last twelve months have only been cosmetic and do not go far enough…”tinkering” was one word I heard. What tosh!

The Law Society was in crisis and like moving some great boulder, the amount of effort to get it even to rock to and fro on the spot was enormous, let alone getting it to move forward. It may not look much to the casual cynical observer but anyone prepared to look seriously will know what huge steps have been taken and will also know that the momentum for change will now carry forward more reform for the benefit of all. Reform at the Law Society was not an event, it is now a process.

The lunatics have not taken over the asylum at Chancery Lane, there is a risk-based approach to all management issues, there is a new intellectual rigour over budgets, a real determination to prioritise efforts and above all a willingness to engage and listen.

In the months to come the Council will be broadened so that the diversity in the profession can be better represented and as we all know from our own businesses, the more we engage the client, the better the service we give. There is now in place a management board with subsidiary boards for finance, reform, standards and representation. There are clear lines of authority, clear lines of accountability, shorter lines of management. This is big stuff, it is very impressive and for it to have been achieved in little more than a year is possibly the best news the profession has ever had about its representative body.

Of course, it will still go pear shaped from time to time…it is still a political organisation after all and politics is not always neat or efficient…but there is now a real chance that the Law Society will emerge as a strong, well managed and respected body deserving the support of those it represents.

Whether it goes on from here to achieve its potential is going to be partly down to solicitors everywhere. Do we care less or do we care enough?

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