President's Letter (August 2008)

It ought to be a huge honour becoming the President of the Cardiff and District Law Society. So why does it feel as though I received a hospital pass from my illustrious predecessor, Richard Fisher? Maybe it is declining membership numbers? Perhaps it is the constant sniping at Chancery Lane from solicitors I meet? Or the large numbers of law students graduating into paralegal jobs with very limited prospects of securing Training Contracts. However I look round the Council table and I see representatives of some of the most successful practices in Cardiff and a cross section of experience at that. We have renowned practitioners from all sides of the criminal justice system; experts in the Tribunals; sole practitioners, solicitors from small and medium size partnerships as well as the three largest commercial practices being active supporters. So is this Society well equipped to help the Solicitors of Cardiff and District? The answer is a resounding yes.

The problem of course is the historical shadow of the Law Society at Chancery Lane. The disillusionment is just that, historic. The staff is now a wholly different one to that of only four year ago. The infamous examples of excess and mismanagement fall at the feet of the old guard. The new regime led by Chief Executive Des Hudson deserves a chance and indeed when one looks at what they have achieved one can start to see this Law Society may indeed be a different beast. It may be too overweight a beast still and there may well remain some scepticism that it will ever slim down but at least it is punching its weight. To adapt a Monty Python expression, so what has the Law Society ever done for us? Hudson’s first action on taking post was to injunct the Government and force them to stand down over the issue of making court files accessible to the media. It persuaded the Government not to increase the Small Claims Limit and of course its most high profile success was in forcing the Legal Services Commission to re-think its criminal Legal Aid plans. In fact there are may other successes and indeed many other areas where the Society is fighting the profession’s corner. Unfortunately communication remains the Achilles heel and it is simply not getting those messages out. This is felt acutely in this Council where there is understandable scepticism over the Society’s relevance. In fact the Society has only around two years in which to demonstrate to the profession that it is sufficiently relevant to our practice that we will voluntarily continue to pay a membership fee when the compulsory levy ends.

Inevitably the Chancery Lane shadow affects this Society.

Richard had begun the struggle to take this Society out of this shadow. His invitation to the BMA in Wales’ representative to address the Council on how it represents the medical profession was a welcome fillip and reminder that the profession does need a clear voice to be heard in Westminster and the Sennydd. Now, with the support of the Council I want to freshen up how it works. Gone is the old fixed Agenda and, whilst the Finance and Policy Committee will ensure the Society’s business is run properly, the Council meetings will focus upon discussions of the issues that really matter to our members. Where better to start than at our next meeting in September when Anne Godfrey the Law Society’s Director of Membership Services will come to talk to us and listen and respond to the criticism of Chancery Lane, and just what it is doing for us. This promises to be a lively session and, if any non-Council members would like to attend, then as Anne has said she is happy to see anyone; if you would contact me we can arrange participation in the meeting.

No it wasn’t a hospital pass but a gift; and one I want to share with all members of the Society. We need representation with the legislators; we need to be defended against the over-zealousness of the regulators; we need a voice; we need the Law Society. It is up to us however, to make our feelings known so it can earn our respect and membership.

I hope to serve this Society to the best of my ability and to demonstrate to the solicitors of Cardiff and District that we have an important role in, amongst other things, ensuring Chancery Lane is serving us properly.

Mark Harvey, President

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