The country’s largest trade union has criticised the Law Society for planning redundancies instead of furloughing staff, as well as slashing its presence outside of London.
Unite called on the society to have “an urgent rethink” over plans for 44 redundancies, a consultation on which ended yesterday. No decisions have yet been made.
The jobs under threat include relationship management staff based in the north, midlands and south-west regions – leaving regional staff in London only – as well as staff working on digital support.
At the same time, Chancery Lane has proposed creating 47 jobs, but Unite said these were different roles, on lower grades, and include a temporary contract.
Unite regional officer Carolyn Simpson described them as a “thinly veiled disguise to use the pandemic to reduce pay and terms and conditions of employees”.
She said: “The Law Society is in the dock over the way it has handled these proposed job cuts and, as a result, risks reputational damage in the court of public opinion.
“Unfortunately, the Law Society is living up to its image as a London-centric organisation. By scrapping its regional staff team, the society has turned its back on its own members based in the north, midlands and south-west.”
She said the society has rejected recommendations from Unite to use the government furlough scheme, now extended until the end of March 2021.
“We believe that this august body has fallen to a new low in its 195-year-old history, preferring instead to jeopardise the livelihoods of its staff at this most uncertain of times.
“It needs to show a wider sense of social responsibility to its dedicated staff during this national crisis.”
A Law Society spokesman said: “For the past three years the Law Society has been on a journey of change and transformation. This has been so we can respond more effectively to what our members tell us about the kinds of support they need.
“We are currently conducting a consultation about how we deliver a number of functions within the Law Society with the goal of modernising our approach to member services.”
Meanwhile, LawyersforXR – the Extinction Rebellion supporters who held protests outside of the Law Society in September  – have revealed that they secured a meeting with officials following the action.
“One of the outcomes has been the creation at [the Law Society] of a working group on climate and biodiversity crisis,” they tweeted.
The Law Society spokesman said: “We met with XR, at their request, and were pleased to share information about an existing initiative by our council members which is looking at the role the Law Society can play on climate change.”
Separately, the Law Society yesterday expressed disappointment at the decision of its Irish counterpart to cease issuing practising certificates (PCs) to its members if they are based outside the Republic – and the fact that it only discovered the news on the Law Society of Ireland’s website.
Many solicitors from large City law firms have used a long-established process to requalify in Ireland so they can continue advising clients on EU law with the benefit of privilege after Brexit on 31 December.
In a statement, the Law Society of Ireland said a review had confirmed its view that only a solicitor actually operating in Ireland could have a PC.
Previously, where Irish-qualified solicitors wanted to become a registered European lawyer in another EU country, the society gave them practising certificates, but it has now decided that it need only provide confirmation that they are qualified.
Law Society of England and Wales president David Greene said: “The Law Society of Ireland has for years issued practising certificates to the many Irish solicitors based in England and Wales, whether their first qualification is the Republic of Ireland or whether they are UK lawyers who have requalified in Ireland.
“It would also appear that any other EU qualified lawyers based in England and Wales will be able to continue practising in their home state law including EU law, but the position for Irish solicitors has become less clear.
“To hear about this development through a release on the Law Society of Ireland’s website is very disappointing. We would have expected to learn of any proposed changes in advance and formally.”