Law Society Council Elections 2016
I have set out the feedback I got from colleagues in detail below, but here at the top, I've collected an executive summary of my position for you based on that feedback along with some other information on my background and my story that you may find helpful if you'd like to learn a bit more about me before deciding how to cast your vote.
If you haven't already done so, the best place to start is to watch the video above.
What Colleagues Said
Ok. So first a little about the method: now I’m not a statistician or a professional pollster, so I’m sure not everything was right with the way I went about it. (In fact, I’m sure that there was an awful lot wrong.) But for better or worse, here’s what I did.
First, I asked an open question. I sent an email to colleagues with a simple open question, which was:
What are the top two challenges that you face in your practice, your career, or your life that you feel the Law Society could or should do more to help you with?
So far, so simple.
But by asking the question in this way, interpreting the results got a whole lot more complex, at least for me. I’m sure it would have been far more effective to ask questions on specific issues, for example, asking for colleagues' views ranked on a scale of 1 to 5 on X or Y, in which case I’d have been able to tell you 15% were very satisfied with X or 37% felt not very confident about Y. But then the choice and structure of questions was likely to limit and direct the responses.
The downside of the open approach was that practically every answer was unique. Sure there were themes common to many, but each member had their own particular way of expressing what they were concerned about.
And when I mapped these out I quickly starting having almost as many issues categories as I had replies. Then I decided to group them into “buckets”. As I say, common themes emerged, so I started to drop replies into the “dealing with complaints” bucket or the “professional development” bucket.
And then I amalgamated buckets as this appeared to make sense to do so. This is by no means an exact science of course, and involves a lot of subjective judgment, but it enables you to get a flavour of the trends in the responses, or at least how I interpreted them.
So, the results, well they are listed below by issue in the order of priority by reference to the number of responses:
|1||13%||Issue 12 - Guidance on Practice Development Carreer Progression/CPD/Marketing and Practice Management/Work Life Balance/Overwork/Stress|
|2||11%||Issue 15 - Performance of Law Society/DG/DG's salary/Top Down/Not Listening/Cost/Old Boys-Insiders Network/Law Society's Ads|
|3||9%||Issue 1 - Member Care/Support|
|4||8%||Issue 3 - Profitability/Pressure on Fees/Uneconomic Conveyancing Fees|
|5||8%||Issue 8 - Diversity: Older members/Younger members/Issues for Women in the workplace/Support for non traditional roles/Support getting back into employment/Bullying|
|6||7%||Issue 21 - All Others: PI in the Media/Specialisms/Foreign Lawyers/Limited Liability/Brexit/Lack of Power of Council/Pay in Civil Service/Non Solicitors Doing Legal Work/Judicial Appointments/Technology Replacing Lawyers/Mental Health and Suicide Prevention|
|7||6%||Issue 6 - Representation/Regulation Conflict|
|8||5%||Issue 4 - Big Firm Dominance|
|9||5%||Issue 7 - Help with Client Complaints/Disputes/Fairness Before Complaints/Managing Clients|
|10||3%||Issue 19 - Reform: Conveyancing Standard Pre-Contract/Electronic Filing of Pleadings/Standard Precedents/Changes to AML/S.68/Conflicts Rules|
|11||3%||Issue 2 - Resent Being Tax Collectors|
|12||3%||Issue 9 - Collegiality/Intergrity of profession|
|13||3%||Issue 13 - Quality/Suitability of Traineeships|
|14||3%||Issue 16 - PII|
|15||3%||Issue 17 - Costs/Taxation|
|16||2%||Issue 5 - Recruiting Talent/Skills|
|17||2%||Issue 18 - Urban Rural Divide|
|18||2%||Issue 10 - Law Society and Society/Non Legal Issues|
|19||2%||Issue 20 - Solicitors Adveristing/Injuries Board/Claims Sites|
Now, I’ll accept that you may not agree with some of my groupings, this may require a better explanation of the category tag I’ve used, or we may just disagree. Also, Issue 21 was a residual category where I ended up grouping the responses where I received either a single or a very small number of responses in each, together they make up a significant segment.
I suspect that few, if any, of these issues are new and have not been highlighted by surveys run by the Society before. But that does not in any way detract from the fact that they are obviously still important to members. At least those members who responded.
That deserves a little mention and contextualisation here: only a minority of members responded, as one would expect. But it was a lot as far as I was concerned. An awful lot in fact. Nevertheless, it must be recognised most did not respond at all.
And indeed, of those who responded, about half responded simply to express their support but didn’t have anything off the top of their head that they wanted to say in response to the question. That may in itself say something.
Now, a little of explanation in how I consolidated the issues:
The most popular issue, Issue 12 started off described as “Guidance on Practice Development/Careers”. Then there were others who wanted guidance in the form of CPD, some who wanted guidance on marketing and practice management, dealing with stress etc. etc. Issues that you would not necessarily put together “marketing” and “work life balance” say for instance, ended up there under the common theme of areas in which members seemed to me to want “Guidance”.
Similarly the second most popular issue was Issue 15 “Performance of the Law Society”. Anything issued that members raised around the performance of the Law Society, it’s executive or its public utterances was consolidated in this category. The question of the director general’s salary was included here as a number of members mentioned it; I have no knowledge of the matter and make no comment about it other than to say that it was raised as an issue by some and it seems to me to fall into the general rubric of performance.
On the terms/tags that I used to describe categories, please do not seek to read too much into these. For the most part I just threw down the first thing that came into my head, often using whatever word members themselves had used in the responses. So if the categorisation seems impolitic or somehow maladroit, please forgive me, I was doing a lot in a short time and I did not spent much time considering my descriptions.
So, what is the upshot of it all?
Priorities for the Profession
Well, based on the replies, and my own views, I tried to distil these issues down into the priorities in my campaign letter, cross-pollinated of course with what I actually thought were priorities myself.
By way of reminder the things that I listed as priorities in the campaign letter were as follows:
- We need leadership with a vision of a positive future for all members of the profession, in firms of all sizes, all over the country.
- We need a truly representative Law Society whose primary purpose is the support and professional development of its members. We need a fresh voice for members.
- We need a Law Society that is accountable to its members for its performance.
- We need action on practical commercial issues for members: e.g. limited liability for all members; a level playing field in the delivery of the regulated services we provide; implementation of effective adjudication of costs.
- We need a Law Society that accommodates the diversity within the profession in a meaningful way, is inclusive of younger members, supports members in balancing career and family, and is also relevant to members in non-traditional roles and those seeking to return to the profession.
Leadership or vision did not arise in the responses. Yet this is something that I thing we need above everything. So I plumbed for this as my first priority. (Sue me!)
A representative Law Society was number two in my list. You will see that support and professional development form part of this. In my mind this incorporates all of Issue 12, Issue 1 and Issue 6, which were the 1st, 3rd and 7th most popular issues (making a combined 28%).
While we’re on this point, I would ask you to be clear that just because I rank as issue as highly important that does not necessarily mean that I believe that I am going to be able to do anything about it if elected to Council. First off, I have no real knowledge and no experience of that body and have no idea what can or cannot be achieved. Secondly, to a large degree I suspect that for the time being the horse has already bolted on one of the biggest areas in which one might expect Council to have influence: the Legal Services Regulation Act.
Take the representation/regulation conflict issue. Many members’ responses seemed to indicate that they believed (perhaps hoped would be a better word) that the transfer to the new authority would resolve this.
I don’t think so, or certainly not to the extent that many members believe or hope.
Complaints will go to the new authority, as will advertising as far as I am aware. But financial regulation issues will remain with the Society.
This, as far as I am aware, is down to the simple fact that the government does not in any circumstances want to be picking up the tab for the compensation fund, which it wants funded by members directly.
And in those circumstances, the Society, quite reasonably, has sought to retain control of oversight of financial matters. So this means that, for the foreseeable future, as far as I can see, the thing that members are most familiar with as the manifestation of the Society regulating their profession, i.e. the periodic investigating accountants' audits etc. will continue.
I have long thought that the conflict between regulation and representation was the Society’s fatal weakness. Like the futon which by day is an uncomfortable couch and by night is an uncomfortable bed, the Law Society in attempting to perform both roles cannot be expect to do either as well as possible. (Though in fairness it probably does the regulatory one very well, it just can’t do the representative one very well at the same time.)
Anyway, this is just one instance, but I highlight it here just in case you, dear reader, may form the impression that in listing things as priorities I am under the illusion that I may be able to effect change to any of these.
Accountability is number three on my list and this is intended to capture everything that falls into the performance category. I’m not saying that I’m going to take up everything that everyone wants to get to the bottom of, but I am saying that I think that the executive of the Society should be accountable to the Council and that’s the role I’ll see myself in if elected.
Practical commercial matters were listed at number 4. This reflected in part what members raised, things like the issues with taxation of costs, and in part issues that I feel are important but did not come up. For instance, I feel limited liability is a vitally important issue and an important achievement by the Society in the progress it made on amendment of the new Act. But I believe that all members should have access to limited liability and not just partnerships; sole principals should have it too. I also believe we should be entitled to all of the benefits to be had from operating with proper limited liability company status, the same as every other business owner.
The responses on some issues were completely contradictory. For instance some thought that advertising around personal injuries is the of scourge of the profession, some feel that the restrictions on advertising are. I tend to be in the latter camp and take the view that whatever policy is implemented, practitioners should be able to operate on a level playing field with unregulated competitors like claims sites. In my view, either the regulator shuts down the latter or allows us to compete on the same terms.
Similarly, on education and training we had very diverse views. Firms with a commercial bent saw no benefit from having trainees learning about private client work. On the other hand, smaller firms wanted trainees coming out with practical knowledge of precisely these areas.
While these differences in point of view were not the types of diversity that I was thinking about in my fifth priority, it does bring us nicely to that word: diversity.
It became clear to me from the responses that we have so many different constituencies within the membership of the Society. There is a big firm/small firm divide, an urban/rural divide and this is just within the traditional firm structure in the first place. We then have those who do not form part of traditional firms at all, those working in-house, in industry and those not currently in the workforce. Within these different groups we have segments such as younger members, older members and members balancing family commitments (while we have reached a point where over 50% of the members of the profession are women, we are far from gender equality, particularly as we move up the echelons). From my point of view, we have more in common than divides us, but we do have to recognize the needs and priorities of the different segments within the profession and serve each appropriately.
Of these five categories that I have chosen to list, I list them merely as the priorities by which I will be guided. Who knows what one can hope to achieve.
What I Will Do
At the end of the day all that I promise are two things:
- To commit to giving this my best. If you vote for me and I get elected, I will work as hard as I can at it and make a contribution wherever I can for the next two years.
- To be accountable to you. If you vote for me and I get elected, I’ll send you an emailed report after each meeting requesting your input in advance of the next. And at the end of my two year term I’ll give you a full report on my experience with any recommendations that I may have.
On accountability, and my report to you in particular, one thing that we must bear in mind is that pursuant to regulation 24 of the Council Regulations 2015/2016 is that “a member of Council or a committee … shall keep confidential all matters coming within his or her knowledge arising from his or her membership of the Council or any of its committees”. Therefore, obviously any reports that I will make will be limited to matters not coming within Council confidentiality.
Ok, that is almost it from me. My apologies for the rambling nature of the post, but I wanted to give you a comprehensive account of the feedback that I got from members and where I am coming from in relation to it.
The key priority is that you vote. In life, the most important thing is getting clear on those aspects of it that you have control over and those that you do not have any control over. And the key to success in life is accepting the latter and doing something constructive about the former.
The make up of the Council is something that you as a member of the Law Society now have an opportunity to vote on. This is something that you have direct control over in that you have a vote; but you only take that control if you exercise your vote.
Please take control and ensure that your voice is heard by voting.
When you do vote, I would be very grateful if you would for me. I hope that I will get to formally ask you for your vote in person, but if I do not, please allow me to use this opportunity as the next best thing and to ask you here for your support and your vote. If you do vote for me I assure you that I will work hard on your behalf and that I will be accountable to you.
Thanks for your time and attention in reading.
I wish you the very best and every success in your practice, your career or whatever role you occupy as a member of the Law Society.
All the best,
Summary and Review
In case you didn't view them at the top of this post, I've created an executive summary of my position based on what I've set out above in more detail along with you some other information on my background and my story that you may find helpful if you'd like to learn a bit more about me before deciding how to cast your vote.
If you haven't already done so, the best place to start is to watch the video at the top of the page.