The Chinese have a saying “You cannot stand still in a moving river”.
It will evoke a familiar feeling for in-house lawyers everywhere. The dynamics of the business world today dictate that just about everything changes all of the time. Priorities change, timescales change, as do targets, products, objectives, personnel, budgets, and markets. Every single one of these factors is capable of skewing our resources and our approach. Nothing, anymore, can be taken for granted
It would be entirely understandable, therefore, if in the hurley-burley of the busy office, with relentless deadlines, resource hassles and demanding bosses, you may just have missed the quiet revolution down Chancery Lane.
Get this…The Law Society now has its very first management board with delegated authorities from Council. It has introduced a risk-based approach to managing its business and it has strategic planning as a dynamic part of its resource management. It has managers who are more accountable than ever before because the structures and processes are more transparent and, perhaps most significantly of all, it wants to engage with its customers and improve its efficiency and services.
Okay, so it’s not rocket science; so every one of you has lived with these things for years, but this is the Law Society I am talking about. This is the organisation that three or four years ago barely knew the in-house sector existed. This is the organisation that is consistently described as irrelevant and as a waste of time. And to be honest may be it is hard to be too enthusiastic about it…after all what did the Law Society ever do for you?
Well, I am not going to even attempt to tell you that the Law Society is now a model of corporate governance with a radical agenda to transform a profession that at its worst is moribund and even at its best needs to modernise and innovate.
What I do say is that without the changes that have been made the Law Society was on a slippery slope to nowhere. That’s not being too harsh either; we all know that organisations have to be well managed and well lead, that they need vision and rigour in their products and processes and above all we know they have to engage their customers. You could have the most committed, enthusiastic and passionate workforce in the world, but deny them these other ingredients for success and nothing happens.
Chancery Lane has always been full of committed and enthusiastic people. On the Council there have always been men and women who are passionate for the well being of the profession, but if my colleagues on Council read this I hope they will not be offended if I say that passion is not enough. You have to put an effective structure in place first, then manage it well in order to ensure that the passion is directed. Then, and only then is there a chance to deliver.
All this, however, still does not answer the question “what does the Law Society do for me?”
The Law Society regulates the profession. I believe self-regulation is a wonderful gift that used wisely will build and maintain trust but will also allow for standards to improve without over regulating markets, imposing excessive costs or restricting opportunity. As in-house lawyers we may not be so concerned with the regulation of the profession but surely we want our external law firms to innovate and diversify so that we as consumers may benefit from their expertise and experience. Self-regulation is not a right and we all need a strong, respected Law Society to ensure it remains a competitive opportunity.
As in-house lawyers we are all concerned that our status within the profession is not eroded, that the value we bring to the law, to business and to the customers of our businesses is recognised and rewarded. An informed, engaged and resourceful Law Society can support and encourage these goals. There is now an opportunity like never before for our priorities to not only be on the agenda but to be effectively actioned as well.
As in-house lawyers we want to be able to fully participate in the social conscience issues affecting our profession. It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “Lawyers have a superior opportunity to do good”. It is a statement that still resonates today and it will be the Law Society that helps facilitate our work in the pro-bono arena.
As citizens we need the wider profession to be strong, expert and influential in the debates about civil and criminal law reform so that its key role as one of the checks and balances in our society is strengthened and supported. As lawyers on behalf of the business world we need the Law Society to be a respected voice in Whitehall so that government listens more than it ignores.
The Law Society is never going to be “cool”; It never will excite and be a hot topic in the bars after work, but we need it to be effective, well run, well lead and well managed; we need the Law Society to have the vision and the resources to represent us and we need the Law Society to be able to recognise our enormous contribution to the profession and to the business community so that it may support and encourage us more.
The Law Society revolution of 2000-2001 may not have made so much as a ripple on the pond of your working life but I believe the changes made have given the Law Society the best chance it has ever had to represent our interests. Whether it succeeds or not will partly depend on the commitment and talent of the current leadership and partly on whether we are prepared to hold those leaders and the Law Society as a whole to account.