President's Letter (October 2008)

In my last column I introduced my enthusiasm to freshen the Council for the Cardiff and District Law Society and to engage our members in matters that are directly relevant to their practice. It is equally important to me whether these were solicitors in private practice, the public sector or in-house.

I was therefore delighted with the September Meeting of Council which focussed upon a discussion lead by Anne Godfrey, the Law Society’s Director of Membership Services.

Many of you may already have met Anne and will recognise her vibrancy and enthusiasm which I believe is vitally important for the future success of the Law Society. Anne was one of the Chief Executive, Des Hudson’s first appointments in a new role in his management team. Quite rightly Anne is anxious to point out that she should be judged on both her own and her team’s present activities and not against the actions of the Society in the past. This does seem to be a frequent millstone for her in that she is seeking to be judged on her own merits and not to have continually pointed out to her perceived shortcomings from the past.

Anne’s target is a simple one to describe and much less so to complete. There are three years remaining before compulsory membership of the Law Society will go and the Law Society would then be looking to persuade solicitors voluntarily to subscribe to the Society. Anne is therefore tasked with making the Society a body that solicitors will wish to join and be prepared to pay a membership fee of probably in the region of £250.00. She cited examples of successful law societies in other jurisdictions such as New South Wales and in North America where membership is at around the levels of 40% to 50% which is a realistic figure to aim for even with a society that provides a very good membership.

Anne noted that the Law Society started off at a disadvantage when there was the separation of the regulatory from the membership process. For example 90% of the employees were regulators as against 10% who work for membership services.

Anne recognises that the Law Society historically and probably even now has been very poor at telling its membership what it does and what it does so very well. As she put it, “We are dreadful at telling you good news”! In fact in preparing for the meeting I went to the Law Society website and was very pleasantly surprised to see the number of services and the level of information that was available to a member and indeed the sheer variety of interests that are addressed there. Anne is trying to communicate to the membership that those services exist and indeed to improve them where she can.

At Executive Board level, the Society needs to be effective at representing its members. Part of that skill is establishing those fights that it can win and those that they may not win but are worth shouting for. Successes for the Society for example with Legal Aid demonstrate that this can be and is an effective representational body.

Anne is looking at the issue of membership for the Society. There are proposals to consider corporate membership to sit alongside single membership. There are proposals to consider membership for associated professionals working alongside solicitors in their practices such as accountants.

Consideration is being given to having grades of membership to include student, associate, member, fellow and affiliate. She recognised that the public do actually respect the title “solicitor” and therefore consideration is being given to whether this should appear as a description after an individual’s names for example on a business card.

To those who suggest that the Law Society cannot continue to represent such a various collection of interests she argues that the Government needs to deal with a central body. It will not deal with a lot of separate special interest groups lobbying for their representation.

For those working as government lawyers or for example within NHS Trusts, Anne’s view is that the membership fee would allow government lawyers who are not able to get membership of the Society now so that they can derive benefit from that membership. It may also be possible to set up a public sector section or division, to provide a form of virtual community so that those solicitors are able to be put in contact with their peers around the country for networking and other opportunities.

By general consensus the meeting was acclaimed as being a constructive one. For those of us who are supporters of the Society, we consider that Anne is a yet further demonstration of a new regime lead by Des Hudson that is demonstrating a relevance to its membership. I would not presume to suggest that the sceptics at the meeting were necessarily won over but I think it would at least have given them considerable food for thought that just maybe this new leadership in the staff is a different one to that which has gone before. I hope the Society will have been able to reduce the scepticism in the next three years so that they will subscribe to a voluntary membership Law Society.

I do believe that the profession needs a representative organisation that is a strong one with a loud voice that can punch its weight behind it. One that has a significant voluntary membership of the profession is one that I think both the Government and the Welsh Assembly would have to take seriously.

Mark Harvey, CDLS President

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