If the Law Society were to sack me tomorrow – for asking one impertinent question too many, perhaps – I would not be left entirely without recourse. Membership of the National Union of Journalists entitles me to free legal representation in employment matters, courtesy of Thompsons Solicitors. This is a core benefit of the monthly NUJ subs which I have been shelling out for more years than I care to count – though the provision of Thompsons’ free advice is ultimately at the union’s discretion.
I was reminded of this handy career backstop amid renewed pleas for the Law Society to fund legal representation for solicitors facing disciplinary proceedings. As the solicitors ‘trade union’, is the absence of this support not a curious lacuna?
I think not.
I don’t dispute the fact that there is a clear anomaly here, namely the absence of ‘equality of arms’ before the SDT. But the two scenarios are hardly analogous. My ‘trade union’ won’t fund me in professional disciplinary proceedings – it can’t, since I have no professional body.
It is also wrongheaded to describe the Society as a trade union in the first place. The Society is a professional body whose functions and spending are closely prescribed (and proscribed) by the Legal Services Act 2007. I suspect primary legislation would be required for Chancery Lane to commit members’ money to paying for advice in matters that appear before the tribunal.
Even if the Society were to assume what would be a hefty annual bill, who would pay and in what circumstances? Many solicitors of impeccable mien and record would strongly resent picking up the tab for errant members who might end up being struck off for fraud – or worse. How much would this add to the PC fees of the scrupulous?
Nor does it seem that there are many precedents here. In defined circumstances, some senior financial services executives have it written into their employment contracts that ‘the firm’ will fund legal costs incurred through disciplinary action brought against them. But their professional bodies – if they belong to one – will not.
So this would appear to be a non-starter. Let me know, via our letters page, if you disagree: email@example.com.