An in-house division, an advocacy section and maybe even replicating the Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) for private client solicitors are among the items on the Law Society’s agenda as plans to reshape Chancery Lane begin to roll out, chief executive Des Hudson has revealed.
Mr Hudson told Legal Futures that as part of the process of change in the legal market, the society needs to change too, having looked closely at what it is for, what it should be doing for its members and how it should be doing that.
He conceded that the society does not currently “match up so well” on where he thinks it needs to be. Part of the motivation behind the so-called Blueprint project is to ensure the society is “fit for purpose”, he said.
The project is underpinned by new IT, with an updated website due to launch early next year. For the first time certain parts of the site will only be accessible by members, with other specialist areas only available to those who have paid for those services.
Research among solicitors has found a positive response to the “customer offer”, with improved perceptions of value and potentially an increased demand for paid services.
As well as making money, Mr Hudson said Blueprint looks to save costs – for example, the IT system was originally installed for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (at a cost of £24m), but parts of it are being adapted for the society, such as the practising certificate registration system being reworked for CQS registration. A contact centre may be introduced as well.
The in-house division is a response to the historic focus on private practice and a close look at how the society is serving those members, Mr Hudson said. Meanwhile, the introduction of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates is an example of where solicitor-advocates need extra support, he explained. “We haven’t spent 30 years promoting solicitor-advocates to let them down now,” he said.
There will potentially be an overlap with some of the groups aligned to the Law Society – such as the Commerce & Industry Group representing in-house lawyers – but Mr Hudson stressed that his focus is on products and services, rather than policy. He pointed to the Junior Lawyers Division, which was created by merging the Trainee Solicitors Group and Young Solicitors Group and maintains an independent political voice.
With will-writer regulation in the offing, Mr Hudson said the society is investigating the viability of a CQS type scheme for private client solicitors as the model is replicable for other areas of practice.
Mr Hudson would not say how much the Blueprint programme is costing – citing commercial confidentiality – but said the outlay should be recouped after 34 months. Extra money the society makes will either be used to reduce the practising certificate fee or to finance those areas of the society’s work for which the Legal Services Act prohibit using practising certificate funds.