A limit of 12 years on the period served by Law Society council members is “essential” to ensure the body “robustly represents the diverse profession of solicitors”, the society’s AGM will hear next week.
The proposal to end curb the time council members can sit was backed by the society’s council membership committee, but rejected by the council at its meeting in February this year. The AGM has the power to overturn this.
An earlier failure to introduce term limits was one of many governance problems cited by former chief executive Catherine Dixon when she resigned from the Law Society in 2017.
Pushed by the Junior Lawyers Division, the motion’s proposers argued in their supporting statement that this meant that the council did not “embody good governance principles”.
The limit would “improve diversity of representation and delivery of innovation” and create vacancies that “level the playing field for challengers against incumbents who have a greater opportunity to dominate”.
Supporters of the limit cited a number of professional bodies which have a limited term, including the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (six years), the General Medical Council (eight years in any period of 20 years) and the Engineering Council (six years must be followed by a two-year break).
“As a representative body, council should be a mirror image of the profession it represents. The members believe that limited terms of office will increase diversity within council and provide for a larger variety of characteristics, geographies and practice areas being represented.
“We believe this will also encourage larger numbers of candidates to stand in elections, improving the democratic process, as there will be fewer reservations about standing in an election against an incumbent and long-serving council member.”
Those supporting a limit said there would also be less chance that “historical groupings” would dominate the council.
“As is inevitable, serving on any body for a long period of time can lead to entrenched groupings, and risk such groupings dominating discussions.”
A limit would encourage “optimum performance” as council members saw their office as a “temporary opportunity, rather than an indefinite appointment”.
A statement by president Simon Davis on behalf of the council said that supporters of the status quo in February argued that only 23% of council members currently have more than 12 years of service, “which does not suggest that there is any undue representation at senior levels”.
Equally, many past presidents, including Mr Davis himself, would have lost their seats without being able to stand for office.
It was also argued that, in the context of diversity, it would not be right to deny council the benefit of a member’s “expertise, experience, and relevant institutional memory of issues considered by council in the past”.
The proposal would also deny constituencies choice: “A person with 12 years’ experience and expertise may be just the kind of person a constituency may wish to elect.”
The restriction would fail as well to make allowance for members who at earlier stages in their careers could devote only limited time to council, but later on could do more.
The AGM will vote on another proposal, this time supported by the council, to reduce the number of geographical constituencies in favour of more seats for those representing practice areas and ‘characteristics’, so as to better reflect the demographics of the profession.
Women, in-house solicitors and those with less than 20 years of post-qualification experience are all under-represented.
Geographical constituencies currently make up 61 of 100 seats on the council, and the proposal is to reduce them to 46.
Local interest is often limited – of the 18 geographical constituencies that held elections this summer, 11 were uncontested and two received no nominations at all.
The AGM will see David Greene, senior partner of London firm Edwin Coe, take over as president, former in-house lawyer and now management consultant I. Stephanie Boyce move up to vice-president, and Lubna Shuja, principal solicitor at Legal Swan Solicitors in Birmingham, become deputy vice-president.
The AGM will take place remotely next Wednesday. To attend, email firstname.lastname@example.org.