Driven by the work of the solicitors who form its specialist committees, the Law Society is constantly lobbying government and parliamentarians on a range of aspects of law reform.
This is generally patient, technical, quiet work that goes on behind the scenes, serving the public interest and the interests of solicitors and their clients.
From time to time a different, higher-profile approach is needed, like the Society’s Sound Off For Justice campaign.
We decided to devote resources to a campaign that would engage the public because we believe that pressure is needed from outside the legal sector to ensure that decision-makers give the important issue of access to justice full attention during the passage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.
The campaign encompasses the legal aid and civil costs funding aspects of the government’s proposals.
We have secured the support of organisations from the Women’s Institute to Shelter and are engaging with the wider public through a campaign website, Facebook and Twitter, as well as traditional PR and campaign stunts.
The government’s crude approach to saving money by simply taking whole areas of legal advice and representation out of legal aid ignores the reality of modern life and the bundles of interlocking issues that many people face.
It is penny wise and pound foolish.
The proposed changes to civil costs, especially the ‘no win, no fee’ regime, mean that alternative methods of funding legal advice will not always be available.
These changes will have a wide-ranging impact, affecting many more individuals and businesses who will find that they do not have the means to fund actions to ensure that others meet their obligations.
Even the Ministry of Justice recognises that there will be knock-on costs for other government departments which have not been calculated.
They will arise because the government will end up picking up the pieces when individuals are not able to secure any legal remedy for the problems they face.
Also, the MoJ’s own impact assessment predicts the cuts will give rise to increased criminality and reduced social cohesion. We are working hard to identify those knock-on costs with some accuracy - a major piece of work, but one that will strengthen our hand considerably.
We recognise that in the current economic situation, savings need to be made across the board.
So, unlike other campaigns against government cuts, we are proposing alternative ways of saving the money needed to rein back government expenditure.
Our policy teams have found ways of saving more money than the government but without removing huge areas of legal advice and support from the people who need it most.
The MoJ response to those alternatives has been off-hand and seems to indicate an unwillingness to consider them with the seriousness urged by the Justice Select Committee.
If citizens do not have practical and effective access to the law and justice, an important element of the social glue that keeps a civilised, democratic society together will be lost.
In a lecture at the Law Society on Monday, Lady Hale of the Supreme Court said: ‘The idea, recently floated, that some claims recognised by the law should become non-justiciable in our courts is truly alarming.
'This would turn debts and other legal duties into voluntary obligations, binding in honour only. And we know what risks of truly alternative enforcement mechanisms those can bring.’
To coincide with the second reading of the bill we have this week issued an interim report examining its key flaws and setting out again the alternative savings that we know can be made.
According to a recent survey of solicitors, more than two-thirds of Law Society members believe that it is right for the Society to run its current campaign.
So we have correctly judged that the profession shares a strong commitment to the principle of equal access to justice for all.
Find out how you can add your weight to this important campaign by visiting our dedicated website.
Stephen Ward is director of communications, inclusion and corporate responsibility at the Law Society