Despite the fact that we are now in the depths of Winter, I have been reminded of my Summer holidays. I had an excellent fortnight in Florida with my family, but I noticed that on every other billboard along the main road there seemed to be an advert for a law firm. Each advert had a big picture of the lawyer’s face with very “to the point” subtlety-free message– one actually said you should choose them as they are “aggressive lawyers”.
In September I attended the Local Law Societies Conference, hosted by Birmingham Law Society. The key message from Robert Bourns, the President of the Law Society of England and Wales, in his opening address at the conference was that we should be proud of our profession and all that we achieve and the position of trust that we hold within society. It reminded me of those billboards in America and what might become of our profession if the regulations and entry into the profession were allowed to be weakened and diluted.
On a similar note, as a Society we have responded to the two SRA Consultations relating to proposed changes to the Handbook and the Accounts Rules. I would like to thank the Cardiff Law Society for sharing their response with us. The consultations dealt with a number of proposals for a change in the regulatory framework for solicitors. In particular they included the proposal that the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct should be replaced with two separate, shorter and simplified codes - one for solicitors, and a separate one for firms. We agree with the Law Society that there is insufficient evidence of a need for such radical reforms. They are likely to create consumer confusion by effectively dividing the profession in two, creating a second class of solicitors, delivering unreserved work through unregulated entities. It could also weaken client protection and potentially lower professional standards. Most solicitors I speak to want clear guidance and examples of what is, and is not, compliant with the regulations. The proposed slimmed down code of conduct will remove outcomes and indicative behaviours and leave us with an even greater lack of clarity, which is in my view very unhelpful. A full impact assessment should be carried out before any of the proposed reforms can be fully considered.
We also fully intend responding to the latest SRA consultation on the Solicitors Qualifying exam and I would urge all to respond.
These latest consultations and their likely effects seem to be part of a general threat to our core standards. I had the pleasure of attending the DASLS (Devon and Somerset Law Society) Admissions Ceremony earlier in the month. His Honour Geoffrey Mercer QC spoke and advised the newly admitted Solicitors that the three most important things to remember throughout their careers are “Integrity, Integrity and Integrity”. I think we should all pull together and get behind the Law Society’s current campaign to promote the brand of solicitor. It is intended to support the reputation of the profession and highlight the commitment that solicitors have to their clients, and the positive role that we play. Alternatively we could all put our heads on billboards on the side of the road and fight it out in a race to the bottom! n
President of Monmouthshire Incorporated Law Society
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