First Asian president takes Law Society helm as accounts reveal CEO bonus

Shuja: Major focus on ethics

Lubna Shuja was sworn in as the new Law Society president yesterday – the first Asian woman and first Muslim to hold the post – with a pledge to focus on professional ethics.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the Law Society’s former chief executive received a £37,000 pay boost after the first year of the Covid pandemic.

Ms Shuja was inaugurated as the 178th Law Society president and the seventh woman.

Admitted as a solicitor in 1992, she is a sole practitioner who specialises in professional discipline and regulation. She also has experience in contested wills and probate, divorce, child access, personal injury and contractual disputes, and is an accredited mediator.

She said: “I am honoured to serve as Law Society president. I take on the role at a difficult time for the legal profession. The rule of law has been in the spotlight as never before in recent history. The UK’s economy is on a knife-edge and businesses are having to deal with rising interest rates and high inflation.

“If the pandemic has proven one thing, however, it is that solicitors are resilient and adaptable. They keep the wheels of justice turning by providing services remotely, innovating at pace and ensuring the public can get the justice they deserve.”

She promised to launch “a major focus on ethics in the profession to support solicitors though this minefield”.

She explained: “Parts of the profession have been unfairly criticised in the past for representing their clients and doing their job. These criticisms have become more pronounced in recent years, directed at lawyers practising in areas as diverse as immigration and financial services.”

The society’s work in this area “will help the public to understand the finely balanced professional ethical issues solicitors weigh up on a daily basis to ensure the rule of law is upheld”.

Ms Shuja pledged also to educate the public on the importance of the rule of law and solicitors’ role in upholding it, and to work on improving diversity, social mobility and social inclusion in the profession.

“I am a Northerner, originally from Bradford, and I am from a working-class background. Diversity, social mobility and social inclusion are very important to me.

“I want to understand better the barriers that firms and businesses are facing when trying to reach and promote diverse candidates as well as identify the challenges facing those seeking to enter and progress through the sector.

“More must also be done to achieve true gender parity in terms of pay and progression.”

She added that she would also look to “further open up the judicial ladder” to solicitors.

The society’s accounts for the year to 31 October 2021 were put before the AGM yesterday, along with comments from the floor that they should be presented in a more timely fashion. Robert Bourns, chair of the society’s management board, indicated he would look into this.

They showed that then chief executive Paul Tennant was paid £327,000 in salary and benefits that year, up 13% from £290,000 the year before (although in 2019/20 he also received a pension contribution of £29,000).

The year before that, in 2018/19, he received £239,000, plus a £28,000 pension contribution.

The salary of Paul Philip, the chief executive of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), rose by £4,000 (1.2%) to £335,000 in 2020/21; he too saw no pension contribution, having received £31,000 the previous year.

Mr Bourns told the AGM that the increase for Mr Tennant reflected a bonus. “The CEO at the time was employed on terms that enabled a bonus payment to be made,” he said. “[It] was made at a reduced level and dealt with through the remuneration committee and therefore does not reflect an underlying increase in the level of salary.”

Ian Jeffrey, former managing partner and chief executive of City firm Lewis Silkin, recently took over as chief executive. Mr Tennant left at the end of 2021.

The accounts also showed how Law Society staff are paid more, on a simple average, than SRA employees.

The society, in its guise as the professional body for solicitors, employed 404 staff as at 31 October 2021 and paid them £25m, an average of £62,560. The SRA paid its 666 staff nearly £35m, an average of £52,205.

Overall, the Law Society group delivered a £2.8m surplus in the year, compared to an £11m deficit in 2019/20. Mr Bourns indicated that the current year was likely to produce a positive outcome too.

    Readers Comments

  • Ian Gillam says:

    Interesting. I suspect you never read these comments but ethics apply to the regulation authorities as well as solicitors. Time they realised that. The conference was almost totally inward looking and ethics barely discussed. Interesting too that the new President of the Law Society turned up briefly to say she was concentrating on ethics. I for one will take her up on that. Let’s hope she makes a better job of it than her predecessor

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