The chairman of the body responsible for the make-up of the Law Society’s ruling council will today start the ball rolling on possible governance reforms amid concern over ever-falling interest among solicitors in who represents them.
Mike Williams suggests that the society should consider having council members chosen from among its specialist committees, rather than elected, and paying council members for their role.
Mr Williams, the member for Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire, will tell the council membership committee that the aim of his paper is to stimulate a debate, rather than set out a reform blueprint.
He said looking at the council should form part of the wider debate on member engagement, problems with which have been shown by the “increasing lack of interest” in council member elections and last month’s special general meeting.
The paper said the starting points should be to look at the function of the council, its role in the society’s wider governance, how effectively the council articulates and represents solicitors, and the body’s cost.
He argued that the specialist committees – which have a mixture of expert practitioners and council members – had been an area of the Law Society that had “always been perceived to work well”.
If council members were chosen from among applicants who were committee members, it would dispense with “voting indifference” and “ensure that those individuals who were on council would have a very high level of specialist knowledge in a particular practice area”.
He also said the “currently … relatively small” number of City practitioners on the council could be greater. “On the basis that money talks, that number should arguably increase. In practice this may not be as much of a challenge as it might initially appear.
“It is possible that more of the larger firms provide the backbone to the specialist committees. If so, almost inevitably, the City percentage might increase.”
But he acknowledged that “quotas may be needed to protect provincial representation”.
He observed that having the current system of volunteer council members could discourage younger members from becoming involved and even cause resentment against senior ones within their firms, adding: “We need to consider whether the time has come when the Law Society would be more representative, more in tune with the profession and more effective if its council members were remunerated.”
It was also necessary to look at the “current informal arrangements (or lack of them) that exist between council members and local law societies”, said Mr Williams. Better links between council members and their membership should be considered, including the ability to communicate directly with them.
“If so, should that be through some Law Society portal with the right of the executive to provide input or indeed to countermand communications with which it disagreed? The availability of Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In and the like may make the executive’s wish to keep council members ‘on message’ increasingly difficult in any event,” he said.