Law Society of England and Wales

Council Report (June 2010)

I write this in the midst of a hectic week.  Tonight is the Access to Justice Roadshow atCapital Tower.  I’ve 3 trips to Chancery Lane too - Monday (Housing Law committee), tomorrow (education and training committee) and Friday - Saturday (the Law Society’s Presidents and Secretaries Conference) with Peter Davies, Simon Mumford and Michael Walters.  Simon will revisit Chancery Lane while the London Underground is plastered with advertisements for Mumford & Sons and their record Sigh No More.  Simon, your record speaks for itself, you need sigh no more as you’ve had your wish and we have a new government. 

Richard Fisher has set me a limit of 750 words, so what can I report?  Charles Plant, the new chair of the SRA, addressed the April council meeting.  He and his new board are reforming that organisation to make it fit for its purpose.  He is keen to cut its costs (some managers have left and are not being replaced) and to change its culture.  But make no mistake, he is a tough customer and he was tough with Council when he persuaded us to accept in principle a proposal to amend our governance rules to establish a new body, on which the Law Society and SRA will be equally represented, to deal with the SRA’s budget and the provision of support services to the SRA.  The Legal Services Board is the catalyst of this change, which is intended to provide further separation of the SRA from the Law Society.  It is good news that this was achieved amicably.

The SRA has begun its programme of consulting on outcomes-focused regulation (OFR), which it intends to implement (with a new Code of Conduct) on 6 October 2011, when ABS are introduced.  OFR will transform the ways in which the profession behaves and is regulated, but no-one knows how great the change will be, what is involved and whether the profession will be ready for it.  You will help yourselves to prepare for OFR if you download the consultation from the SRA website, read it and consider whether you, your firm or local law society should respond to it.  The deadline for responses is 27 July.

One issue of immediate concern to the profession is membership of mortgage lenders’ panels.  The paper we were given and the ensuing discussion were confidential, but I can say that the Society is working hard to protect the interests of solicitors and their clients.  It has held many discussions with lenders and the Council of Mortgage Lenders about their panels and has already taken practical steps to assist firms that were removed from lenders’ panels.  The Society is developing means of practical support to deal with the problem comprehensively but cannot talk about that yet.  However the Society will make an announcement as soon as it can.

As far as professional indemnity insurance is concerned, I echo the advice given by the president, Robert Heslett, in the May 6 issue of the Gazette.  The difficulties of Quinn Insurance are well-known.  As Quinn insured predominantly small firms – although it provided cover for 2,900 firms (about 26% of the 10,958 firms in England and Wales), this was slightly less than 10% of the £240 millions worth of PII business – many firms in South Wales  will be insured by Quinn.  Its departure from the PII market will make it harder to obtain PII this year – and 26% of firms (coincidentally, the same percentage insured by Quinn) reported problems in obtaining PII in 2009.  Insurance Matters, which is published by the Law Society in association with Aon and is distributed free to every firm, contains useful advice to help you obtain insurance this year.  

Finally, in the back of all our minds is the worrying future of publicly funded legal services.  You can find the Law Society’s interim Access to Justice report at the Law Society website.  Labour was no friend of legal aid – on the Today programme during the election campaign the only cut in public spending Ed Miliband could identify as one which Labour would make and the public would notice was legal aid.  There is no reason to suppose that this government will be any friendlier – indeed, I expect things to be far worse now that the campaigning is over.  Some heads (such as those of Carolyn Regan, Gordon Brown and sundry ex MPs) have rolled, but more heads will roll as axes begin to fall and scissors begin to cut. 

David Dixon

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