Law Society Council summary: 10 December 2014

At its second meeting of the 2014-15 legal year, Council said farewell to Paul Coen since it was his last Council meeting as interim chief executive, and thanked him warmly for his highly effective service to the Society. Catherine Dixon, the new permanent chief executive, commences work at the Law Society on 5 January 2015.

Judicial review of the legal aid crime duty tender process

Council determined to seek a judicial review of the legal aid crime duty tender process. The Law Society is continuing discussions with the practitioner groups in relation to their plans and will be offering financial support to the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association to support their work on their potential reviews.

Presidential update

Andrew Caplen took the opportunity to update Council on his programme of work since taking office in July 2014. He highlighted activity in the three key areas set out in his presidential plan:

  • 1. Access to Justice – including launching the Law Society’s Access to Justice campaign jointly with the Lord Chief Justice, marking the 65th anniversary of the Legal Advice and Assistance Act 1949, hosting the opening reception for the European Pro Bono forum, and appearing before the House of Commons Justice Select Committee
  • 2. Rule of Law – including, at the Opening of the Legal Year, chairing a seminar on business and human rights and speaking at the bar leaders’ breakfast on the rule of law in light of next year’s Magna Carta celebrations
  • 3. Diversity and Inclusion – including events focusing on the role of lawyers in assisting victims of domestic violence, the achievements of black and Asian lawyers, the achievements of beneficiaries of the Society’s Diversity Access Scheme, and the scope for further improvements in the diversity of the judiciary.

Andrew also noted an extensive programme of visits and keynote events outside London, participation in the American Bar Association and International Bar Associations conferences, constructive engagement with the judiciary and many other stakeholders, and a full programme of events at the party conferences in September and October. A copy of Andrew’s report to Council is attached.

Representing and promoting the profession

Significant work reported to Council included:

  • 1. Access to Justice – responding to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation of the proposed duty solicitor scheme, including media activity, letter writing, and the provision of an on-line resource pack for members
  • 2. Strategy for legal services regulation – responding to the SRA’s consultation on client protections, and participating in a roundtable event on professional indemnity insurance with insurers, brokers and lenders
  • 3. Support to improving the diversity of the profession – events to mark Black History Month and Diwali, a range of diversity forums across England and Wales, and a speed networking event for women solicitors.

The Law Society had also been active in engaging with the government on legislation including the Consumer Rights Bill and the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. Among international activity, a meeting had been held with representatives of English firms in Japan, the Society had been a partner of the Global African Investment Summit, and a conference had been held to promote UK-Mexico legal links. In terms of ensuring best practice governance arrangements, Council agreed to proposals from LAPB to make changes to the membership of some Law Society committees, reducing the number of seats reserved for Council members and therefore opening more seats up to the profession at large.

Serving the profession

Among matters reported to the Council were:

  • 1. The launch of Lexcel version 6 at the sold-out annual Lexcel conference
  • 2. An agreement to develop a new accreditation scheme for occupational disease
  • 3. Plans to reinvigorate the Civil and Commercial Mediation Scheme
  • 4. The accreditation of over 120 firms for the Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme
  • 5. The continuing increase of traffic on Find A Solicitor, with over 500,000 visits in September.

SRA annual report

Council received and debated the Solicitors Regulation Authority 2013-14 annual report. This report is submitted in compliance with the requirements of the ‘oversight protocol’ between the Society and the SRA. It drew attention to the extensive programme of regulatory reform and organisational change under way at the SRA, articulating a commitment to targeted and proportionate regulation and the reduction of unnecessary regulatory burdens. The report also contained commitments to improving operational performance and working with stakeholders to improve the quality of SRA services.

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