President's Letter (June 2016)

Although the heading for this column is true as I write this piece, it will no longer be true when you read it. On Wednesday 25 May, my term as president of Cardiff and District law society will expire and Paul Hopkins of Geldards will take charge. The society will be in good hands under Paul’s leadership and he, Rachelle Sellek and Sarah Grace will form a strong triumvirate to lead the society into the future.

The end of my presidential year is a bittersweet moment. Even though there isn’t a general election of members to vote for the president, it is a great honour to serve as the society’s president. I am grateful to everyone who has supported me, not just this year but throughout my tenure as Law Society council member for South Wales and during the period when I chaired the Confederation of South Wales law societies before that. But there are some aspects of presidential life I won’t miss. Much as I like writing articles for Legal News (and I’m submitting three articles to this issue), it will be a relief not to have to comment on current legal developments from the point of view of this society and, separately, to report from Chancery Lane. I used to find it hard to write my Chancery Lane news feature for every issue of Legal News, so it has been doubly difficult this year when I’ve been expected (and managed) to write two articles for each issue, without repeating myself.

Lord Acton observed that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I am only human, so probably am not immune to such corruption, though I have resisted the temptation to declare myself president of the society for life! Fortunately, the office of Cardiff and District law society president has no power so I have not been corrupted. This is because our society’s able and efficient administrator, Michael Walters, possesses and exercises all of the society’s power. Michael does a tremendous amount of work for the society and is a man of many talents who dreams up schemes for increasing our membership, nurturing and expanding the membership benefits, devising courses to run and raising the profile of the society. He is also the most idiosyncratic minute taker I have ever encountered. Thanks for all your hard work, Michael.

The big event I must report on is the annual dinner on 22 April. I thought it was a big success, though I expect all presidents say that. We managed to attract 269 diners, which is more than for many years and I thought the atmosphere was excellent and very supportive. I am so grateful to everyone who came to the dinner and I hope you enjoyed it.

I managed to get through my speech without embarrassing myself too much and without telling a single joke! I thought if I told any jokes they would either not be funny, or they would offend someone which I didn’t want to do on this occasion. So I contented myself by mentioning in the speech as many titles of Beatles songs as I could (it turned out to be 25 of them) without distorting it to accommodate them. I should have known better. Since the dinner scarcely a day has gone by without someone wishing me “good morning! good morning!” or telling me to let it be when I’ve objected to something. I was worried that people might think the idea a bit naff but it seemed to amuse a fair number of people and I feel fine about it now it’s done and dusted.

Our speaker was Keir Starmer. I had the privilege of sitting next to him during dinner. What an interesting and good man he is. I was a bit nervous about giving the speech during the gap between the first and second courses, but he kept chatting to me during the first course so I had no time to get nervous before I had to rise to my feet and speak. That was very thoughtful and considerate. He spoke well, with humour and without a note. I am so glad I asked him and that he came to speak to us. I hope he enjoyed the evening. He made a lot of friends.

I was delighted to be able to hand the Simon Mumford Memorial Award to Fran Edwards, who was a worthy and popular winner. Fran’s achievement in becoming president of CILEx and leading it with distinction during a year when Chris Grayling was Lord Chancellor and CILEx’s highly regarded chief executive retired is immense. She fully deserved recognition from her friends and peers in South Wales for all she has done.

Lowri Morgan told me to enjoy the evening and I did. I bought a table for friends and it was good to see friends from university who stayed overnight in Cardiff, and others like Allen Oliver, who I hadn’t seen for a couple of years and Professor Thomas Watkin. One of my former partners from the days when I practised in Newport and three colleagues from the Law Society council were there too, including Robert Bourns, the vice president, who sat on the top table. Robert is a graduate of University College Cardiff and it is always good to see him back in Cardiff. And the top table guests were great too. It was after 2 am when I left the Vanilla Club and plenty of people were still partying then.

None of this could have happened without the immense work put in by Richard Fisher. My involvement in the arrangements was limited to inviting a couple of people, choosing (and tasting) the meal), e-mailing a few people to persuade them to come, write the speech and do what I had to do on the day. That is a tiny amount compared to what Richard (and Michael) did. I shudder to think how many hours he spends on these dinners every year. Thank you Richard for the remarkable work you do, both for our society and for the Confederation.

I had plans for my presidential year but none of them came to fruition, largely because I had very little time to work on them. I had hoped to attract speakers for a series of meetings on issues of current importance but in the end only one speaker, Julie Brannan, came for a meeting on the SRA’s proposals for the Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination. Catherine Dixon, the Law Society’s chief executive visited Cardiff too, but oddly she didn’t want to meet the local profession, which had been the purpose of inviting her. Most disappointing was my failure to launch a Cardiff and District law society annual lecture. I approached Shami Chakrabarti but the timing was inconvenient as she was about to resign as director of Liberty and then I became too busy at work so abandoned the plan. But it remains a god idea and I hope that sometime in the future the society will inaugurate such a lecture.

That is the main disappointment of the year. But what I’ll remember about this year is the tremendous goodwill I felt from the profession, particularly at the dinner, and attending the opening of the legal year service at Llandaff Cathedral where I mixed for a short time with the great and the good of the legal world in Wales. I’ll conclude by thanking the members of the society’s council for all their hard work and for being a great bunch of people to work with, the Law Society’s Wales office for their support and accommodation and thanking all of you for the opportunity to have been your president. 


David Dixon

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