Law Society: dispute over council representation

Groups representing lawyers in both local government and industry, as well as sole practitioners, face losing their representation on the Law Society’s ruling council, Legal Futures can reveal.

Proposals being considered by the society’s management board today would see their seats on the 100-member council being transferred to Chancery Lane’s new in-house and small firms divisions.

The move is likely to spark further ructions with the groups – the Commerce & Industry (C&I) Group, Solicitors in Local Government and Sole Practitioners Group (SPG) – which have chosen not to be absorbed by the society’s new divisional structure, a decision that means they have been cut off from financial support.

Other so-called recognised groups, most notably the Association of Women Solicitors, have chosen to join with new divisions. Legal Futures is aware that there have been lengthy, if largely behind-the-scenes, arguments about these changes to the society’s structure.

All three affected groups responded to a consultation on the issue by making the case for retaining their seats.

The C&I Group said: “C&I Group membership is currently at 6,000 and growing on a monthly basis with members having made a positive decision to join and be involved with and in the group. To not allow such active solicitors to have a voice at the Law Society by removing any council seat allocation to the C&I Group would seem totally contrary to the Society’s declared desire to get closer to its members and engage in active dialogue.”

The SPG – which also argues that the small firms division will not have the focus on solos that it has – warned: “In the future foreseeable formal separation of groups from the Law Society and the lack of council membership representation will have the effect of polarising the separation and potentially increasing the risk of a fragmentation of the Law Society.”

The designation of all 31 non-geographical council seats is currently subject to a four-yearly review and papers going to the board show that there were questions from senior members of the Law Society as to whether there should be more radical change, such as stripping seats from the likes of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers and Forum of Insurance Lawyers on the basis that they are “in some respects ‘competitors’ of the Law Society”.

However, this has not been taken up by the council membership committee, which has made the recommendations being considered today by the board and then, if approved, by the council itself at the end of March. The question of ‘competitor’ organisations could still be raised at the council meeting.

Meanwhile, the society is facing further embarrassment after Legal Futures learned that a ‘City conference’, which was planned after it was forced to cancel its national conference last year due to insufficient interest from corporate lawyers, is also facing the axe.

The society was hoping to have London mayor Boris Johnson speak at a post-conference dinner and then organise an event beforehand, but “unfortunately Boris Johnson is not available to us”, according to Chancery Lane papers.

The society is separately working on a ‘City Project’ – to help it engage with City solicitors – and it is likely to be decided this week that this will achieve the same goals.

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