In most important debates there will be several different points of view all of which will have some validity.
People hold to their particular view for a variety of reasons: they may have a genuine heartfelt belief in their position, it may be that it is the view of the majority of their friends, colleagues or constituents; may be it appears to be the least worst option; or perhaps they consider anything would be better than the status quo.
I believe that whatever the particular perspective held, when views seem to conflict it is important to look behind the position to examine the interests. The position one takes, for or against, is one manifestation of how interests are perceived. The likelihood is, however, that while positions may differ, interests often coincide. To be persuasive and then to reach consensus we must first examine where interests coincide and not just argue boringly over ever more entrenched positions.
In the consultation paper on the reform of the Law Society the profession is being asked to comment on changes to the way our professional body is organised. I believe it is in all our interests to help shape the Law Society so that it becomes more efficient, more effective and better able to represent and regulate.
Nothing too controversial there, although some believe that the time has come for the Society to have only a representational role and to hand over regulation to others.
But first let us look at where we are today. Efficiency and effectiveness are presently diminished largely because the management structures are cumbersome, roles are confused and responsibilities have become blurred.
The best run businesses would run a mile from such a situation. Instead they would look for simplified structures that give transparency to roles and responsibilities. Transparency in turn leads to accountability and accountability leads to better decisions. Better decisions result in better management and an organisation that is more efficient and effective. Suddenly we have a virtuous circle of improving management, efficiency and effectiveness and all is right with the world.
Well, not quite.
What is also needed is excellent leadership. Leaders must be allowed to lead and managers must be allowed to manage. A vision of where we aspire to be is vital to the success of any organisation. The most effective car engine in the world will be rendered effectively useless until the car has an excellent driver. It is in all our interests to have good management and good leadership and then to allow them to lead and to manage.
Here again views may differ, but the Law Society has only recently appointed its first Chief Executive and has office holders who are, as a team, working together, putting forward their ideas, taking the initiative and taking their vision out to the profession.
My judgement is this, we have new leaders and new management and we have a proposed model for a structure that is transparent and will achieve accountability. The ingredients are right and meet our interests. This is a model that can be made to work and I believe the profession should support it wholeheartedly.
So, what of the differing positions? Are these people wrong?
No, they are not wrong. There is no right or wrong answer. It is a question of whether the interests we share are better served by one solution or another.
We all want an efficient and effective professional body, representing our interests as skilfully as possible. Some believe however that representation is not compatible with regulation.
Is that a view that stands close scrutiny?
What would an independent regulatory regime cost? How it would be administered and funded? How would we achieve the necessary changes to our governing statute and how are we as lawyers going to influence the new regime? I do not pose these questions to rubbish the idea, but if we are to be persuaded that this is a better vision of our future they are questions that must have good answers to give legitimacy to the proposal.
Then ask just how representation alone might work.
The profession is diverse and becoming more so. Solicitors in-house, in city, global and high street practices, working for the CPS, in MDPs, possibly as public defenders etc etc etc. The idea that even sometimes our interests within the profession coincide is one that is difficult to accept. A body that could only represent some of the interests some of the time and that would not be able to regulate at all, is such a diluted model from where we stand even today that it is hard to believe it is the best we can do.
Of course the different interests which result from the profession’s diversity do not disappear in any of the proposed models, but if we can engineer much greater representation of all diverging interests we then have genuine scope to engage the whole profession in the debates on structure, on rules and on competitive issues within and outside the profession.
If the whole profession can be engaged and represented, interests can be taken into account and this in turn will lead to better, more empathetic regulation.
My conclusions are these:
- An enlarged council will lead to better representation, a more engaged profession and better regulation
- We now have leadership and management with a vision for the future of the profession
- The structures proposed in the consultation paper are transparent and will result in more accountability and therefore better decisions
- Different models can be found and different arguments for the future are valid, but none of them represent our interests better than the model set out in the consultation paper
The world we live in is not perfect. The Law Society will never be perfect, but today we all have an opportunity to influence the way we are represented and regulated. Perfection is not attainable but significant, lasting and important improvement is within reach.