President's Letter (April 2008)

The Leadership Summit at Chancery Lane turned out to be a little more worthwhile than I had anticipated given its pretentious name and fairly unexciting programme. The morning opened with a panel session with Andrew Holroyd and Desmond Hudson, amongst others, which covered a wide range of topics such as the Law Society Services, education and training and current legislation affecting the profession.

This was followed by a question and answer session; I managed to get in a question as to what the Law Society intended to do to make it more representational especially in the context of representation and support for the Profession in its dealings with the Solicitors Regulation Authority; I made the mistake of saying the Law Society now had an opportunity to become much more of a trade union which meant that Desmond Hudson spent most of his answer explaining why, because of the Competition Act etc, the Law Society had not been able to be more “militant” in the Legal Aid battle. He did however go on to deal with my question concerning the SRA. The Law Society’s position seems to be that, although the SRA takes every opportunity to trumpet its fierce independence from the Law Society, the Law Society still has to regard it as one of its own creatures and, indeed because of the Legal Services Act, it is not therefore possible for the Law Society to be too confrontational or to be in litigation with the SRA. He also voiced the feeling that the Law Society should not seem to be protecting dishonest solicitors; one sees the point but shouldn’t the maxim “innocent until proved guilty” still apply to solicitors who may or may not be guilty of dishonesty or, even more so today, of a wide range of “misconduct”? Mr Hudson did confirm that The Law Society is working to develop an Advisory Helpline.

Another President from the Midlands expressed concern that one of his members who has been charged with dangerous driving, had been told that the SRA are treating this as a conduct matter and would be taking disciplinary proceedings; this is an horrendous example of the SRA overreaching itself if it is taking that type of case on as a routine matter and shows, in my view, how we do need a strong body to represent us.

The “break-out” sessions were not particularly appealing and. in the afternoon. I attended the one on Supporting Solicitors, mainly by default, although of course I do have a great interest in the Solicitors Benevolent Association. As well as the SBA, there was a speaker from LawCare which does invaluable work helping solicitors with stress and personal problems but the most illuminating speaker was one from the Solicitors’ Assistance Scheme, which I have to admit I was pretty ignorant about. This is a Scheme of a quite large network of volunteer solicitors over the country who are prepared to give some initial advice and guidance to solicitors who have professional problems. It does not however provide pro-bono advice or representation although certain of its members are experienced in representing solicitors in disciplinary proceedings. I understand that a small amount of funding has historically come from the Law Society’s Regulatory budget; whether or not this funding will continue from the SRA is a matter of doubt. I do, however, think that this is a body which perhaps could be used by the Law Society as a starting point or model to provide the type of representation and support which I earnestly feel we need, perhaps combined with some type of insurance-based scheme.

One nice incidental moment was when a Secretary of another local Law Society saw that I was from Cardiff and said “you’re the ones with the really good web site”. It was a very nice out-of-the-blue compliment which provides a good opportunity to thank Kevin Greer and the Website Sub-committee for the tremendous amount that has been achieved with updating our Website over the last year.

I also attended the Law Society’s Forum at St David’s Hotel on 18th March. There were about 24 local members of the profession present; I am surprised that it was that many considering the rather obscure invitation which merely informed me that it was a forum on “Independence”, chaired by Joshua Rozenberg. It was only when I got there that I learned that it was one of a series of meetings dealing with Rule 1 of the Code of Conduct and, taking for this particular meeting, the concept of Independence, as prescribed by Rule 1.03 of the Code. In fact, it turned out to be a stimulating evening, lead by a panel consisting of Michael Imperato (Russell Jones & Walker), Kate Berry (Cardiff City Council) and Peter Jones (Eversheds). Even with the small audience, it was interesting that different sectors of the profession are presented with challenges to their independence in a number of different ways with problems arising, for example, from referral fees and conditional fee agreements and, for criminal defence lawyers, from the SSS procedure. This was another example of the Law Society doing something very well but not letting members realise what they are doing.

We should however be pleased that the meeting was held in Cardiff, entailing another visit from Andrew Holbrook to Wales, following his visits to Cardiff last October and to North Wales a couple of weeks ago. It is also a great compliment to Cardiff and Wales that the Law Society is holding its full Council Meeting in Cardiff in June, the first time, I understand, that it has ever been held other than at Chancery Lane.

I am disappointed to have to report the level of subscription renewal and application for new membership is still disappointing. The Society still needs the stability that the subscription income gives it to enable us to expand activities and representation. I have recently saved £200.00 on a Cardiff/CLT course and have used the Counsels’ £50.00 Fixed Fee scheme twice this year – it can only make good sense to join!

At the time this issue hits your desks, you will still have time, if you have not already done so, to obtain tickets for the Annual Dinner on Friday 25th April at the City Hall – application form on the inside back cover of this Issue! I do hope you will join me at our major event of the year.

And, by the way, no apologies for the last two covers!!

Richard Fisher, President

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