Out of the shadows, part 4

Plant: former chairman of the governors at the College of Law

Posted by Neil Rose, Editor, Legal Futures

The latest part of my series looking at who is making the decisions for the legal profession reaches the board of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

The second iteration of the board, the 16 members took over in January this year and the make-up was seen as very City-heavy to compensate for the previous board, which was thought to be too light on City understanding and representation. It has arguably gone too far the other way now, with only two of the nine solicitor members coming from the high street and the term of one of them – Yvonne Brown – coming to an end next year. Both Ms Brown and lay member Stephen Whittle were members of the previous board and were given two-year terms to ease the transition between boards.

Though none of the board members has a constituency, Ms Brown – the only black member of both the previous and present board – has been prominent in discussions on diversity issues, such as the impact of assigned risks pool reform on black and minority ethnic (BME) solicitors, and there will presumably be some pressure on the Law Society to ensure BME representation on the board when it recruits replacements next year.

Aside from some of the SRA’s roadshows, the voices of the board members are not generally heard in public, with chairman Charles Plant and senior staff doing the talking. In compiling these profiles, we have also drawn on the board’s register of interests, which the SRA provided on request.

Charles Plant is a consultant at City firm Herbert Smith, where he was a litigation and arbitration partner for 29 years. An accredited mediator, he sat on the Ministry of Justice’s now abolished Legal Services Consultative Panel, and was chairman of the governors of the College of Law until taking up this post.

Dr Susan Bews also served on the old board, having replaced Alan Kershaw after he left to take over as chairman of the board of ILEX Professional Standards. A doctor, she moved into the pharmaceutical industry and has been president of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine. She is currently chairwoman of the faculty’s revalidation committee – which should stand her in good stead for when competence testing moves higher up the SRA’s agenda – as well as of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ disciplinary appeal panel. She is also a member of the Bar Standards Board’s complaints committee.

Yvonne Brown is a higher courts advocate and a consultant to London firm Goodman Ray, having previously run her own firm. She is a legal aid peer reviewer, an ambassador for public appointments with the Government Equalities Office, and a founding member and former chairwoman of the Black Solicitors Network.

Graham Chisnall is an aeronautical engineer who worked at BAE and then GKN. In 2008 he became a freelance corporate strategy and M&A adviser.

Martin Coleman spent several years as a lecturer at Brunel University before joining City law firm Norton Rose in 1989, where he helped start the Brussels office. He now heads the competition group and sits on the partnership council. Like Mr Plant, he was a member of the Legal Services Consultative Panel. The register of interests reveals that Norton Rose provides legal advice to the SRA, including advice on professional indemnity insurance matters.

Peter Duffy worked as a scientist before developing a commercial career, a good deal of which has been spent with BP. He has completed the Institute of Directors’ Certificate in Company Direction.

Mark Humphries spent 23 years at City firm Linklaters, the last 16 as a litigation partner and head of advocacy, before opening his own firm in 2009. He has previously been on the Law Society’s rules and ethics committee and money laundering task force. I first came across him in the world of litigation funding, where he designed FirstAssist’s Pursuit product.

Tom Keevil was appointed company secretary and general counsel of United Utilities in 2007. He was a senior legal adviser for Gallaher from 2000 to 2002 after 16 years with Simmons & Simmons, where he was made a partner in May 1991. An executive committee member of the General Counsel 100 lobbying group, he is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, an accredited mediator and is a member of the European advisory board of FM Global.

Lorrette Law is senior partner of Switalskis, a predominantly legal aid practice in west Yorkshire. She specialises in child care law.

Cindy Leslie was a dispute resolution partner at City firm Denton Wilde Sapte for over 25 years, where she is now a consultant. Her husband is a consultant with Linklaters.

Chartered accountant Ian Menzies-Conacher joined Barclays Bank in 1980 and is still with the company in a part time advisory role. He has had several professional body roles, including chairman of British Bankers Association.

Sara Nathan OBE spent 15 years producing programmes at the BBC, leaving in 1995 to edit Channel 4 News. Since then she has produced TV and radio programmes and held a range of public appointments in areas ranging from embryology to communications. She is a member of the Judicial Appointments Commission and of the Commission on Youth Crime.

A partner at Slaughter and May for 27 years until 2009, Malcolm Nicholson was also head of the competition/regulatory group there for the last 15 years. He has worked with the various utility/economic regulators – setting up the old OFFER, re-constituting OFGEM, acting for the Rail Regulator and for the Irish Electricity Regulator. He is now a member of the Competition Commission. His son-in-law is a solicitor.

Sir Ron Watson CBE has held various positions within local government and the NHS. Current roles include being a member of the UK delegation to the EU Committee of the Regions, a board member of Standards for England (which is set to be abolished) and a lay member of the Mental Health Review Tribunal. His business background is in tourism. He is the only member of the board with a declared political affiliation as a member of the Conservative Party.

Stephen Whittle OBE was the BBC’s controller of editorial policy for five years. He was previously director of the Broadcasting Standards Commission and before that head of religious programmes at BBC Television. He is now working with the Reuters Institute of Journalism at Oxford University and the BBC’s College of Journalism on issues around media ethics and regulation, as well as chairing the Broadcasting Equality and Training Regulator. He is also expert adviser to the Council of Europe on media issues and is a member of the General Medical Council.

Lucy Winskell is pro vice-chancellor (region, engagement and partnerships) at Northumbria University. Formerly a partner at Sintons and Eversheds in Newcastle, she is the only member of the board who once sat on the Law Society Council. She is also a former chairwoman of the Young Solicitors Group.


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