From the president: Week beginning 7 May 2013
Week beginning: 7 May
Meetings at the Ministry of Justice
We had two important meetings with the Ministry of Justice this week.
The first was my regular biannual catch-up with the secretary of state. Given recent events, we focused entirely on legal aid reform. I made it clear to the minister that the Law Society is committed to negotiating a workable new procurement system, but there has to be acknowledgement that the current proposals are very difficult for the profession and are rightly causing serious concern among many practitioners.
We have arranged for the secretary of state to meet with criminal legal aid representatives of the profession to discuss the government’s proposals over the next two weeks so practitioners can put their thoughts and concerns directly to him.
Earlier in the week I also had a meeting with Helen Grant, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice. We talked about civil justice reforms, with Helen Grant focusing in on the small claims limit and monitoring the overall civil justice reform package, and the potentially serious negative consequences for firm viability and access to justice it may have. I asked her what steps the Ministry of Justice were taking to monitor that impact.
I also asked her about the Ministry’s call for evidence on reforms of regulation of legal services. This is something we are particularly interested in and have set up a small team to look at here in Chancery Lane.
Helen Grant is a qualified solicitor and practiced in family law. She also took a strong interest in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, helping us to secure changes to the family law provisions, particularly around domestic violence.
Presidents and Secretaries Conference
Deputy vice-president Andrew Caplen and I both spoke at the Presidents and Secretaries Conference. I made a plea for local law societies to galvanise their troops in opposing government proposals to change criminal legal aid. I pointed out that if the current proposals are pushed through in their current form and to the published timetable, it can only end in tears. It will be very expensive to fix and may do considerable damage to our society, as well as to the profession’s reputation.
I urged them – and this goes for you, too – to get out there. Speak to your colleagues, talk to your families, friends and neighbours – even your clients – about the risks to justice that are looming.
Andrew followed up my speech with an additional plea for local law societies to think about how they can engage more with their local legal communities, attract more interest from younger members and encourage their colleagues to join with the Law Society to oppose government cuts. As demand for legal services and the legal services market change around us, both the national and local bodies have to ask themselves: how can we make ourselves relevant?
Towards the end of the week I went to a committee meeting with the Norfolk and Norwich Law Society. I talked about a range of issues with the committee, from legal aid changes to the role of female solicitors and what could be done to support women, particularly young women, in the profession. I also had the pleasure of presenting the new president, Jeanette Wheeler, with her chain of office.
While in Norwich I gave an interview to the BBC about the proposed changes to legal aid and I ended my visit there by giving the annual law lecture for the Norfolk Community Law Service. The lecture discussed access to justice with an audience of solicitors, volunteers, academics, students and members of the public.
Criminal law in Leicester
Andrew addressed a very well-attended meeting of solicitors practising in criminal law in Leicester. This had been arranged for the local practitioners to discuss the government’s proposals for price-competitive tendering for criminal legal aid services. There was – as there is throughout the country – great concern at the workability and fairness of the proposals.
Again, he expressed three main messages: that the Law Society completely understands the concerns of solicitors practising in this area of law; that the Law Society will be doing all it that it can to persuade the government to ameliorate its proposals; and that the profession itself should consider and respond fully to the consultation, should lobby local MPs and should assist the Law Society in replying to its own consultation paper seeking views from the profession.
Hampshire Law Society
Andrew went to Hampshire for their Law Society meeting. He has been a member since he qualified and a committee member since he was co-opted as a young solicitor over 20 years ago. Andrew told some stories about his experiences to date as deputy vice president and detailed the recurring themes that arise as he travels round the country: yes, it’s currently very challenging but there are still opportunities; now is not the time to close our minds; and it is important to be well informed and involved.
Women Lawyers Division
Vice president Nick Fluck spent a lot of time reviewing the candidates applying to be members of the Women Lawyers Division (WLD) Steering Committee – a herculean task because of the quality and quantity of the applications. There was a high level of interest among the profession in securing a role on the committee, which will no doubt play a critical part in helping to shape the Law Society’s policies, products and services for women and tackle the issues of interest to them. All women solicitors are members of the WLD as part of their Law Society membership.
The London Link: Innovation, opportunities and challenges in emerging markets
Our annual International Marketplace Conference, taking place on Tuesday 9 July, is now available for booking. The theme for this year is “The London link: Innovation, opportunities and challenges in emerging markets”, and will be of particular interest to firms who are already operating or are looking to operate overseas. The conference will focus on the opportunities that already exist for firms providing legal services in commercial transactions and projects in and between emerging markets.
The conference will examine the key steps to do business in an emerging market, including structuring finance, addressing disputes and emerging trends. It also looks at investment and opportunities for UK and overseas firms to forge collaborative relationships to provide innovative legal services in emerging markets.
Full programme and booking details are available on our website. Bookings received beforeWednesday 5 June will save £50 on the normal booking fee.
President of the Law Society of England and Wales