Law society spotlight: Chancery Lane’s Westminster Public Affairs team lobbies and campaigns to influence and innovate
Solicitors’ expertise is sought by government, parliament and businesses. This places the Society, as a representative body, in a position to influence decision-makers. Robert Khan, the Society’s executive director of external affairs, observes: ‘By harnessing the collective knowledge, experience and expertise of the legal profession, the Society can lead in developing public policy solutions to challenges facing the legal services sector. We work to increase pride in the profession by promoting solicitors’ contribution to the economy, community and the justice system.’
Westminster Public Affairs
The Westminster Public Affairs (WPA) team sits within the external affairs directorate. The team engages with ministers and parliamentarians from the main political parties on the Society’s priority issues, such as the Civil Liability Bill, market access post-Brexit and the legal consequences of artificial intelligence (AI).
The WPA team works closely with members when lobbying for new laws or changing existing ones. It seeks to have influence on the priority issues of the Society, including:
- Maintaining, developing and enhancing the positive perception of the Society with stakeholders;
- Creating an environment within Whitehall and Westminster that enables the profession to thrive; and
- Achieving outcomes and changes to policy and legislation on the main policy areas, including Brexit, access to justice (including civil justice), regulation and technology.
As the Society is a professional body governed by a royal charter, its work with government and parliament is underpinned by its duty to act in the public interest.
The team also seeks support from government and parliamentarians for access to justice and the rule of law.
Lobbying and influencing work takes many forms, including one-to-one meetings with parliamentarians, events, written and oral briefings, written and oral submissions to committees and inquiries.
We maintain close links with the solicitor members of both houses. These solicitor parliamentarians are invaluable advocates for the profession.
Law Society campaigns are crucial in providing a high-profile voice for member concerns, and work towards driving policy change. It is also an area of our work where members get directly involved.
Our current campaigns are:
- Bringing back legal aid for early advice;
- Increase the means test; and
- Government action to address the shortage of criminal duty solicitors.
We also manage the organisation’s ‘Global Legal Centre’ campaign, which promotes the benefits of English and Welsh Law.
Recent successful campaigns have included the early advice campaign. This received support from Conservative and Labour MPs, with Labour adopting both of our early advice recommendations as official party policy.
A number of MPs and lords have made parliamentary interventions in support of our campaign, and more than 20 MPs attended our campaign drop-in session, including shadow lord chancellor Richard Burgon, former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith and Labour MP David Lammy. In addition, more than 550 members have written to their local MP regarding early advice.
The Society’s thought leadership programme launched in 2016. It has evolved each year to reflect the new issues affecting the profession. What has not changed is the aim to position the Society as:
- An authority and voice on justice and legal issues;
- A practical expert and credible source of information – the ‘go-to’ organisation in both justice and legal issues;
- An influencer and innovator, shaping what is next in the political agenda and developing ambitious yet realistic solutions to the challenges facing the justice and legal sectors; and
- An organisation that goes beyond disseminating information and adds value by using information and innovation to shape the legal and justice landscape.
The aim is to bring together leaders from across the profession with members, policymakers and high-profile speakers. Sir Geoffrey Vos, chancellor of the High Court, gave a popular inaugural lecture in the series on smart contracts and the future of the profession, and we have several high-profile speakers lined up.
In addition to this we host:
- Public debates – discussed by diverse panels, themes have included human rights and the military, and the right to be forgotten;
- Dinner discussions – with influential guests discussing topical issues on law and justice. Themes have included the government’s industrial strategy, pro bono, human rights, endangered lawyers and Brexit. Guests have included government ministers, prominent general counsel and senior judiciary; and
- Horizon-scanning roundtables – the Society has produced a number of horizon-scanning reports which we publicise through roundtables with members to discuss their findings. We have discussed autonomous vehicles and the law, and further roundtables are planned for AI and blockchain technology.
If you want to find out more about the work of the WPA team or have any ideas on future events, or areas of work, email us at email@example.com.