The Law Society council yesterday gave the body’s management a bloody nose after rejecting its proposals to remove representation for groups representing black solicitors, sole practitioners and solicitors working in-house in commerce and industry, and local government.
It voted instead 55% to 45% that the Black Solicitors Network (BSN), Solicitor Sole Practitioners Group, Solicitors in Local Government, and Commerce & Industry (C&I) Group should retain their existing entitlement to nominate council members (two in each case, except for the BSN, which has one) for the next four years.
All four – officially ‘recognised groups’ of the Law Society until recently – have chosen not to merge into Chancery Lane’s new ethnic minorities, small firms and in-house divisions respectively. The management board had argued that the divisions should be used to determine who would occupy the council seats representing their constituencies, as is happening with the new women lawyers division after the Association of Women Solicitors decided to be absorbed.
However, Helen Davies, chair of the council membership committee (CMC) – which recommended that the status quo be retained – told yesterday’s meeting that it was too early in the divisions’ development for this to happen; it might be different were the decision being made in a year (council seat designation is reviewed every four years). “Do you feel part of a division?” she asked council members. “Do you know anything about its governance?”
She added that the loss of council seats had not been part of the negotiations with the recognised groups over whether they would join the divisions, a point echoed by C&I council member Stanley Williams. Estimating that around 30% of solicitors would be affected by the decision, he predicted that to vote to end the groups’ seats would “disenchant” members.
BSN chair and ethnic minorities council member Nwabueze Nwokolo said she had been intimately involved in the development of the ethnic minorities division and emphasised that it was still very much “a work in progress”.
Speaking for the management board, chief executive Des Hudson described the CMC’s position as “irrational”, insisting that four years was too long to wait to change the situation given the pace of change in the profession.
While respecting the groups’ decisions not to join the divisions, he said the proposals were about focusing how the Law Society represents, engages with and provides services to these constituencies. Just because the groups did not have seats would not mean they would be unrepresented on the council, he pointed out.
He also questioned whether it was appropriate for organisations that are in commercial competition with the Law Society – citing the C&I Group’s events activity as an example – to have access through their council members to confidential Law Society plans.
At the same time, the management board backed the CMC’s proposal that other organisations with council seats that are arguably in the same position – such as the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers – retain their places. This was overwhelmingly approved.
Separately the five members who are standing for election as deputy vice-president – meaning they will become Law Society president in July 2015 – took part in hustings before the council, the electoral college.
They are: David Dixon (who represents South Wales), Derek French (Birmingham & District), David Greene (member for international practice), Jonathan Smithers (Kent) and David Taylor (South London).