A report from this month’s Law Society Council meeting
The Council met at Chancery Lane less than two weeks after a fire damaged the Law Society’s offices at 114 Chancery Lane.
Luckily, our member-facing rooms such as the Library, Reading Room and restaurant are all in 113, which was not damaged due to the speedy and efficient work of the London Fire Brigade. All our member facilities reopened two working days after the fire.
Simon Davis, the Society’s president, proposed thanks to the 150 fire crew members who were on site and coped with the labyrinthine structure of the building. He also paid tribute to the hard work of Law Society staff who helped members and guests safely evacuate the building on the evening of the fire, and all other individuals and organisations that have since offered help and support.
Ways of working
The Council considered a paper with specific proposals about a maximum term length for Council membership. This was not approved. Almost half of Council members have served four years or fewer, and 23 members have served 12 or more years. Consideration of various aspects of Law Society governance will continue to be reviewed by the Council Membership Committee and Council.
Discussions about the future regulatory landscape and the Society’s future relationship with the Solicitors Regulation Authority continued.
The Council received a presentation from Council member Michael Frape about the work of Council members in geographical constituencies and their connection to local law societies.
Influencing for impact
The Council was updated on the significant work undertaken to influence the government’s negotiation position and to offer members guidance and information to plan for the future. Our policy position is clear, and we have modified our approach to maximise our impact with the new government. We have also been working with the Professional Business Services Council and we chair their group on legal services. We are represented on the government’s Brexit Law Committee, and continue to make the case for legal services to be fully considered and prioritised in the exit deal negotiations.
In December 2019, we launched our new report – England and Wales: A world jurisdiction of choice – outlining the key strengths of the jurisdiction of England and Wales and explaining why these advantages will continue regardless of Brexit’s eventual form. This was widely distributed, and will be integral to our work to promote the jurisdiction to our first target market: Russia.
In December, the SRA confirmed it would be dropping its proposed reforms of professional indemnity insurance. The SRA said that consultation responses had informed the decision. This is a great result for the profession and reflects highly effective lobbying by the Law Society.
Legal aid deserts
On 21 January, the Society launched the latest phase of our legal aid deserts campaign through a heat map highlighting that more than 37m people in England and Wales live in local authority areas without any community care legal aid providers, including more than 7.5m aged 65 and over.
Release under investigation
A joint investigation by Newsnight and the Law Society into release under investigation showed that 93,000 violent criminals and sex offenders have been released in the wake of changes to the law in 2017. Our head of justice, Richard Miller, was interviewed on the programme and warned that a major scandal is brewing. Police bail is being reviewed following our campaign.
Criminal legal aid
The criminal legal aid review is a key matter for our members, and we have engaged extensively with the Ministry of Justice. This is a challenging issue for us and our members. Work continues to seek an agreement.
Economic value of the profession
To support our message about the value of the profession to the economy, we published our analysis, with KPMG, assessing all the contributions the legal services sector makes to the UK economy, using the most recent macroeconomic data available. KPMG reports that the value of the legal services sector to the UK economy was £59.93bn (gross value added) and 552,000 (employed) in 2018.
Promoting the profession
We published the results of our largest-ever legal needs survey at the end of January. We worked with the Legal Services Board on this, in which over 28,000 people took part, and we are using the results to influence how we promote the profession. See ‘Legal needs: Seeking professional help’, Gazette, 3 Feb, for an overview.
Supporting practice excellence
Working with the other members of the Legal Sector Affinity Group, we published interim guidance to help the legal sector fulfil its new obligations under the European Union’s fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive, which was transposed into UK law on 10 January. This can be found on the Society’s website.
The Council was updated on the pilot of the Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Charter and on recently published research by Cardiff University, Legally disabled, which highlights the challenges people with disabilities face within the profession.
The findings at each career stage included challenges with working with recruitment agencies, accessibility of offices, health-related career interruptions, inappropriate paternalism, and bullying and harassment.
The 36 recommendations in the report include increasing flexible and remote working, and greater utilisation of the government’s Access to Work scheme.
Next meeting: Strategic planning event 26‑27 March 2020. Next regular Council meeting: 3 June 2020.