President's Letter (February 2016)

Little has happened in the 2 months since my last report as Christmas intervened and pre-occupied everyone.

I understand that Children’s Festive Fun at Parc Play on Curran Embankment on Saturday 12 December was a roaring success. I hope everyone who attended had a great time. While you were enjoying yourselves I was suffering at Cardiff City Stadium as I watched Cardiff City surrender a two goal lead to draw with Sheffield Wednesday. I know where I’d prefer to have been. Thanks to Synergy Costs for sponsoring the event.

In December the SRA finally released their consultation on assessing competence. This had been expected in the autumn but it was deferred so the SRA could undertake some pre-consultation scrutiny. The consultation expires on 4 March. This society will be responding to it. If you wish to, you should contact me with your views and I’ll communicate them to the working group which will draft the response. I urge everyone to respond to it.

In a related development, Julie Brannan, the SRA’s director of education and training visited Capital Tower on 14 January to speak about the consultation. I’ve known Julie for several years and have the highest regard for her. She was formerly a partner at Herbert Smith before teaching at, and eventually running, the Oxford Institute of Legal Practice. She attracted 40 people to Capital Tower, which is an excellent turnout for a session on education and training and her talk merited the sizeable audience.

Having said all that, I think that the audience distinguished between the quality of the speaker and the quality of the policy she spoke about. She was asked a good number of testing questions and I didn’t hear anyone say anything positive about the proposals. Gwyn George thought that additional costs would fall upon firms which would be expected to pay for the proposed Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination Part 2 skills assessments. He thinks these will cost more than the current Professional Skills Course. I think he’s absolutely right about that. Thanks to Lowri Morgan for letting us use Capital Tower for the event and to Rhys Jones for all he did to make the evening a success.

As Christmas fades and the new year ages, it is appropriate to think of renewal. Global warming is causing buds to grow and open and spring will soon be here. Your subscription to this society probably expired with the old year and I hope all of you will renew your membership of this society this year. Perhaps you will consider becoming one of our Gold Sponsors? I am delighted that, this year, Legal Network Wales, Emma Waddingham Consulting and Spindogs have become Gold Sponsors and Yolk Recruitment are renewing their Gold Sponsorship for the third year. We are very grateful to all of them for their support.

If you want to see a list of the tangible membership benefits which possession of the Society’s platinum membership card can unlock for you, please look up the Membership Benefits page on the Cardiff and District law society website. Did you know that if you chose wisely and carefully you could take your paramour out for a meal at an excellent restaurant, party the evening away at an exclusive nightclub, spend the night at a luxurious hotel, work off the excessive calories you’ve both ingested in a suitably energetic gym the next morning and take the taxi home and each item of expenditure would be discounted because you are a loyal and discerning member of this society? After a few Fridays and Saturdays spent in this hedonistic fashion your subscription will soon pay for itself.

This year’s annual dinner takes place on Friday 22 April at City Hall, at the usual time, 7.00 for 7.30. This is the event which worries presidents more than any other. All of us would like lots of people to come to the dinner, all of us want everyone to enjoy themselves, all of us want to attract a good guest speaker and none of us want to give our speech. I am no exception.

I am delighted to announce that Sir Keir Starmer QC MP has accepted my invitation to speak at the dinner. Sir Keir was the Director of Public Prosecutions from 2008 - 2013 and was elected to Parliament as the member for Holborn and St Pancras in May 2015. Before becoming DPP he practised at Doughty Street chambers, where he is still a tenant and wrote a number of books including European Human Rights Law (1999). He is a lawyer of national and international prominence and significance and it is a great honour that he is attending our dinner this year. I hope you’ll come and listen to him.

One duty at the dinner which I will enjoy rather more than giving the speech will be presenting the Simon Mumford Memorial Award. This will be the second time the award has been given. It is given to a lawyer who works or lives (or has done either) within the Law Society’s South Wales constituency area in recognition of his or her contribution to the law and the legal profession. Last year’s worthy winner was Lisa Morgan of Hugh James.

If there is anyone you wish to nominate, please send your nomination to me at DixonD@cardiff.ac.uk. Please let me have your nomination by Monday 29 February 2016.

I will finish by urging those of you who are interested to become involved in both the local law society and the Law Society of England and Wales. This is a critical moment in the history of the solicitors’ profession. The uncoupling of regulation from representation is a process and not an event and the government has signalled the next chapter of that process in its review of legal services regulation. This will also involve encouragement of Tescolaw as the government seeks to do to legal services providers what its predecessor did to opticians in the 1980s. The Legal Services Board’s enthusiasm for increasing the number of qualified lawyers in the facile belief that this will drive down the cost of legal services is another concern as the relatively poor quality of some of them will damage the reputation of the entire sector.

The Law Society and local law societies can help the profession by speaking out on its behalf. In order to speak with confidence, it is important to know and understand the issues. To know the issues and what the Law Society can do for the profession, it is important to become familiar with it. The best way to learn about the Law Society is to join one of its law reform committees. These are often referred within Chancery Lane as its jewels in the crown. At the end of my Chancery Lane News article I refer to the help which the Law Society gives to the government by contributing technical knowledge and expertise when legislation is being developed. That technical knowledge is given by the law reform committees. They also draft the practice notes for the Law Society.

There are 21 law reform committees. Some have a reserved place for someone from Wales. Some will be recruiting new members this spring, though some will not. But if you are interested in the work of any of these committees and would like to meet expert practitioners from different parts of the country and contribute to responses to consultations, consider provisions in bills and draft practice notes to reflect best practice, apply for any vacancy which attracts you. If you want advice on how to go about applying, contact me and I will be as helpful as I can. It would be good to have more committee members from Wales, especially members of committees like the Civil Justice committee, which has a ring-fenced place for Wales which it has not filled.

Any vacancies there are will be advertised in the Gazette. I expect them be advertised in February or March so that the vacancies can be filled by the summer. The law reform committees are:

Access to Justice; Children Law (Sub-committee); Civil Justice; Company Law; Conveyancing and Land Law; Criminal Law; Employment Law; European Union; Family Law; Housing Law; Human Rights; Immigration Law, Intellectual Property; International Issues; Mental Health and Disability; Money Laundering Task Force; Planning and Environmental Law; Tax Law, Technology Law Reference Group; Wales and Wills and Equity.

I hope that any firm in which someone works who wishes to apply to join a Law Society committee would support and encourage them. Although the work involves a time commitment, I have gained as much from the work I have done as I have given to it. Your firm will benefit from your increased confidence and expertise, too.

Once your interest in the Law Society has been whetted by committee work, you may wish to stand for election to the council. Similarly, if you join the council of the local law society and enjoy it, you may wish to stand for election to the Law Society council when that vacancy arises. There is no vacancy at the moment so that is a discussion for another day but it would be good if the next election (as the last one was) was contested by a couple of outstanding candidates.

 

David Dixon
DixonD@cardiff.ac.uk
@saldixie

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