Law Society Council Update December 2016

I attended my second meeting of the Council on 2nd December last.  However, for a number of reasons I’ve decided I’ll give you my update on that meeting in January.  That will give me a little bit of additional time and perspective that I think will benefit in terms of what I can share with you, as of course you may recall from the last update, the business of Council itself is governed by confidentiality, and as such, the first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club.

Instead in this update, I thought I would address something that a number of colleagues have raised with me when I have met them since becoming elected: who’s on Council?  How’s it made up? Etc.

As previously, I will preface all of my remarks with the caveat that these are ephemeral updates that I’m compiling quickly. Therefore, I’m writing and posting this pretty much as it comes out in first draft without detailed proof reading. I offer it as a quick contemporary note of my impressions, it’s not intended to be refined legal writing or my considered opinion on these issues, so please take it or leave it as such.

That said, I’ve done a bit of very simple analysis that I thought you mind find useful to give you a bit of context and a feel for who you’re actually dealing with.

First off, the numbers:  there are 51 Council members in total.

3 of these are ex-presidents, who are members ex-officio for three years after leaving office.

4 of these are provincial delegates, there’s one each from Munster, Leinster, Ulster and Connaught.  If there’s more than one candidate for a provincial position there is a separate election for that province, for instance this year there was a provincial election in Ulster.

5 are nominated by the Law Society of Northern Ireland.  The Law Society of Ireland have a similar arrangement in terms of ability to nominate members of the Council of the Law Society of Northern Ireland.  However, I understand that the convention in practice is that neither body takes up its entitlements to participate in the Council of the other body and they liaise at executive level on issues of interest to both bodies.

5 are nominated by the Southern Law Association.  Only 3 of these 5 nominees are entitled to vote.

3 are nominated by the Dublin Solicitors Bar Association.

31 are elected by the general membership of the Law Society.  This is done on a two year cycle with 15 members being elected one year and 16 the next.  These are the annual elections that you receive details of each year from the Law Society.  Each candidate is elected for a two year term.  Interestingly, in order to be eligible for election as president, you must have been elected by members, not nominated via one of the other methods.

Also somewhat interestingly, one of the more amusing spectacles to be observed as a newly elected Council member is the announcement of the results of the elections for the positions of Senior and Junior Vice Presidents of the Society.  Yes, there is an election, and a returning officer announces the results with a face the straightness of which you simply have to admire have a peek at this web-site.  Because, when it comes to gerontocracy, the Council of Law Society of Ireland is surpassed only by the Chinese Communist Party, and the results of the elections in the latter are only marginally less predictable than in the former.

In short, dude, you know who’s going to get the jobs.  In fact, you can probably tell with reasonable certainty who’s going to have the jobs in 2020.  No harm, no foul, and no real criticism from this quarter; but the fact that there’s an election is charming (and fun to watch!)

Anyway, that’s the structure, so what about the actually makeup.

One of the big issues among colleagues that I speak to is perceived imbalance on the urban/rural divide and on the big firm/small firm divide.

So let’s take a look at those two first:

Of the current members of the Council (excluding Northern Irish delegates) I make it that 20 are from Dublin and 26 are non-Dublin.  For the sake of accuracy, let me be clear that I am referring to where members have their primary place of practice, as of course you have many people who practice in Dublin but are not originally from there and vice versa to a lesser degree.

So the split on urban/rural is 43% Dublin / 57% Non-Dublin (now, before I am skinned alive by the Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway and Kilkenny city people – and all other largeish urban centres – I know you have Non-Dublin that is urban but look, I need to keep this simple and what people really mean when they say urban/rural is Dublin and the rest.)

What is important to note is that the profession as a whole is split 58% Dublin 42% Non-Dublin.

So rural/non-Dublin practices are overrepresented on Council when compared with the profession as a whole.  This is interesting to note, particularly when the refrain that I hear from many rural practitioners that I speak to is that the Council is all about big Dublin firms; not so by this metric.

The next thing is firm size.

This is where things get a little more complicated and require a bit more contextualisation.

First, let’s agree our terms of reference: I call big firms 5 partners or more, small firms less than 5 partners.

By this yard-stick, as a profession, 8% of the firms in the country are big firms and 92% are small firms.

On Council, 22% of the members come from big firms and 78% come from small firms.

So while small firms make up the vast majority of those on Council, when compared with the profession as a whole the big firms are over represented.  (This is perhaps understandable when you consider that fewer small firms and sole practitioners are able to spare the resources to enable someone to run for and participate on Council.)

But the big/small picture is a little more complicated than that.

You see while 8% of firms in the country are big and 92% are small, this is not representative of the total number of solicitors in practice.  Because 24% of the solicitors with practising certificates in the country practice in the top 20 firms in the country, the really big firms.  Yet these really big firms (the top 20) only represent 1% of the members of Council.

So, while you might argue on the one hand that bigger firms are over represented, the really big firms who employ a quarter of the profession are dramatically under represented.

In short, the small firm solicitor and the rural practitioner really cannot complain about representation on Council.

The next thing I looked at was age.  Now I didn’t do a Donald Trump and start looking for everyone to produce their birth certs, I did a very rough estimate.

Basically, I took year of qualification as a proxy for age.  I know that this won’t be completely accurate and the age at which people qualify can vary enormously, but it struck me as a quick and easy way of getting a feel for it.

So, I qualified in 1998 and I’m 44.  That means I was 26 when I qualified.  Therefore, I took the number of years everyone was qualified and added 26 in each case.

Bottom line, the average notional age of a Council member is 52.  More significantly, by this reckoning, only 6 (11%) are under 40 and none are under 30.  Again, as with the big/small firm divide, this is perhaps understandable, in that younger colleagues tend to be busier building their careers than being available to participate on Council, but it certainly looks like we could use some younger blood.

Finally, the spilt between solicitors in law firms in private practice, lawyers employed by the State and lawyers employed in-house is 96%, 2%, 2% respectively.  In the profession as a whole 77% are in law firms in private practice, 3% are employed by the State and 20% work in-house.

Again, the numbers seem to show that the small firm and rural solicitor in private practice punches above his weight (he tends to be a he, as I will come to in a moment) in representation at Council.  And it also tells us that we could use more from the growing in-house sector, though as with members from small firms and younger members, one can think of many reasons why in-house lawyers (or perhaps more particularly their employers) might not see involvement with Council as a high priority.

Finally, finally, gender split: it’s 72% male and 28% female on Council.

As I presume you are aware, the profession as a whole is now 48% male and 52% female.

So, the biggest imbalance between the make-up of the profession and the make-up of Council is on gender lines.

Well, gender is probably the biggest imbalance after cultural diversity, which I couldn’t really find any simple metrics to use for numerical comparison purposes.  But, for that matter, I couldn’t find any real evidence of any cultural diversity either.  In fact, the best example of cultural diversity I’ve seen so far is in the yogurt on the breakfast buffet in the Ashling Hotel, which is excellent to be fair.

(As an aside, I have heard diversity mentioned as basis on which we might promote more solicitors as potential judges of the superior courts.  Well, like motherhood and apple pie, no one can really argue with diversity, but, if we’re serious about it, it looks like we might need to start closer to home.)

What is interesting from an anecdotal point of view is that if you wanted to create an avatar for the best represented members of the profession on Council it would be a 50 year old white male, small firm private practitioner from the country.  And that’s exactly the kind of guy who is killed telling me how the Law Society is run by a shower of big shots from Dublin!  Go figure. Bigly.

Ok, I hope you find that useful in giving you some context on who is on Council and how it is made up.

Now, before I go, you may recall from the last update that we have a crisis in system of taxation of costs.

We had one taxing master due to retire before the end of the year and another due to retire in the first quarter of 2017.

And I am reliably informed that the appointment of replacements in an orderly fashion pending the proper implementation of the new LSRA was a major headache.

Anyway, one thing I can tell is that the Law Society has been active on this and it looks like the message that they have been hammering home about the urgency has gotten across.

Because since Tuesday 13th December we have a new Courts Act.  See here.

The primary purpose of the Act seems to have been to deal with the issue of the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court in property matters arising out of that decision on rateable valuations a while back.

But you will see in sections 6 and 7 it amends the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act, 1961 and allows for a taxing master’s term to be extended for up to three years and for one taxing master to take over a matter initially commenced before another.

So, while still far from ideal, at least it looks like we will still continue to have some kind of system of taxation after the end of this year.

Of course, given the rise in the volume of litigation over time, the fact that we still have only two taxing masters and will shortly have only one, is nothing short of scandalous.

But hey, one step at a time!

That’s it for me for 2016, I would just like to take the opportunity to wish you a very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful and Prosperous New Year.  I hope you get some time over the break to do the things you enjoy with the people that are important.  Whatever you do, have a good one!