Law Society set for governance review as it unveils new strategy

Law Society: new membership grades?

Law Society: new membership grades?

The Law Society is set to review its governance structure as part of a new strategy set against a background of a legal market which it said by 2020 would see more and faster consolidation among law firms, changing employment practices and an increased number of “diverse business models”.

It will also consider whether to offer different membership grades, such as ‘Fellow’.

At its heart the strategy focuses on representing solicitors “by speaking out for justice and on legal issues”, promoting the value of using a solicitor at home and abroad, and supporting solicitors “to develop their expertise and their businesses, irrespective of whether they work for themselves, in-house or for a law firm”.

Though most of the three-year business plan underpinning the strategy appears to list activities that the Law Society already undertakes, it said “we will be comprehensively reviewing our governance arrangements to ensure that our members are effectively represented and that the governance arrangements support the delivery of our strategy”.

An independent head is being sought for the review, and the Law Society’s ruling council has identified the issues for consideration as including: how best to secure wider member involvement; the role of the council; the representativeness of the council and the other parts of the governance framework; and how the Law Society decides its positions on legal policy matters.

However, there is no explicit mention of a review of the actual size of the 100-strong council.

The business plan also revealed the intention to conduct research into the “potential value of enhancing members’ status, by offering membership such as Fellow or Honorary”, and an evaluation of the benefits of offering associate members for students and overseas lawyers.

The strategy was in part shaped by research carried out to identify the key drivers for change in the legal landscape.

These combined to paint a picture of a legal profession in 2020 where “the gap between successful and struggling firms widens further – leading to more consolidation and at a faster rate”. A mix of funding cuts, process automation and cheaper volume providers would also contribute to consolidation among consumer law firms, it continued.

Other predictions included growing sophistication in the use of artificial intelligence – “with potential for machines to render judgment on formulaic cases” – and the development of an “hourglass shaped employment market”. This would see “increasing competition faced by lower-skilled workers and specialists/senior staff, and the hollowing out of the middle of the workforce”.

There would also be an increase in the number of diverse business models, “funded through external investment and using capital to drive innovation in service delivery”.

Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said: “Our vision is for the Law Society to be valued and trusted as a vital partner to represent, promote and support solicitors while upholding the rule of law, legal independence, ethical values and the principle of justice for all.”

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