1950s articles, putting consumer protection first, and an MoJ not fit for purpose: your letters to the editor

From the fug of war to 1950s articles

Michael Simmons’ recollections of serving articles in the 1950s (22 April) match my own experience almost exactly. He could have been writing about the firm in which I did my stint. It was a scene of unimaginable squalor, with piles of paper and dirt everywhere, seen through a thick fug of tobacco smoke. I had been demobbed from the army without any idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I was introduced to a London solicitor who kindly offered me ‘free’ articles – that is, he did not ask for a premium but was offering no pay.


I faced two obstacles. One was the stamp duty on the deed of articles of clerkship to which Simmons refers, and the other was the fact that my wartime ‘education’ did not include Latin, then a prerequisite to qualifying as a solicitor.


The first was overcome but the second was more serious. I went down to the Law Society’s Hall and explained my situation, to which a formidable lady with a fringe and rimless spectacles on guard duty at the desk responded firmly: ‘Then you will never be a solicitor!’


I persisted. Surely there was a way of getting around the problem? She softened her stance. ‘Well, I suppose you could apply for exemption from the Preliminary Examination,’ she said, handing me a copy of the regulations. I duly applied, drawing up what I hoped would be an impressive statutory declaration giving my scholastic achievements, and carefully hiding my lack of Latin in a mass of detail.


In due course I was invited by the Society to attend an interview. I was confronted by a row of rather embarrassed solicitors who had clearly been persuaded to give up part of their lunch hour. After the chairman welcomed me, there was pregnant pause; how to begin? I should mention that I had taken the precaution of wearing my regimental tie. This paid off. One of the panel broke the ice: ‘I see you were a Gunner, where did you serve?’ We had a lively conversation sharing our service experiences, most of the panel being ex-servicemen. My lack of Latin was not raised. After a bit the chairman thanked me for attending and the meeting broke up.


A couple of days later I received a letter from Tommy Lund, then the secretary of the Society, stating that I had been granted exemption from the Preliminary Examination. I was in. The following year, when talking to my fellow students at the Law Society’s School of Law at Lancaster Gate, I casually mentioned that I had managed to get my articles registered without Latin to my name. This was greeted with consternation, as it seemed that many of them had sweated blood to gain a pass in the subject. Was I the first? It was not long afterwards that the Society dropped the Latin requirement.


How did I manage in London without pay? Well, my parents gave me bed and board, a requirement of the terms of my Dickensian articles of clerkship, and I earned a trickle of cash by attending numerous courses as a member of the Territorial Army. Also, my principal would make over to me from time to time ‘bonus’ shares which he had received from his investments.


Articles were a memorable experience. London was pockmarked with bomb sites through which I would thread my way to the gloomy Victorian interior of the central office on the Strand.


Anthony J Cooper

Great Shelford, Cambridge


Putting consumer protection first

Professor Stephen Mayson is to be congratulated for his latest update report on legal regulation (21 April). The report is thoughtful and contains many recommendations that merit serious consideration.


An unintended consequence of the Legal Services Act 2007 has been to create a complex regulatory landscape. As Professor Mayson states in his report, the current regulatory structure is not only confusing but also of little benefit to those using the law. For too long, the regulation of legal services has been shaped through the lens of providers rather than that of consumer interest.


The measures included in this report would help to improve the protection of consumers, allow people access to legal advice more readily, and open the market further to healthy competition, underpinned by targeted regulation.


The profession should be willing to engage in a constructive debate on the issues he raises, and if there are issues with some of the specifics, be willing to put forward practical alternatives which ensure that consumers are genuinely well served by the regulatory environment.


Professor Chris Bones

Chair, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Bedford


 MoJ not fit for purpose

I agree wholeheartedly with everything Arthur Michael Robinson said in his letter of 22 April (‘MoJ must listen to those who know’). I fear, however, that his pleas and helpful suggestions will fall on deaf ears at the MoJ.


I say this because in well over 30 years in the salaried and fee-paid judiciary I had a great deal of contact with civil servants at the ministry and its predecessors. The sad reality is that the MoJ is simply not fit for purpose. That is because senior civil servants inhabit a world of their own, far removed from the realities of access to justice. Their whole raison d’etre is saving money, irrespective of the wider implications for our justice system.


Yes, the ministry frequently issues press releases saying what a good job they are doing and how things are getting better but, away from planet MoJ and in the real world, harsh reality tells practitioners otherwise.


Dr Stephen Pacey

Judge of the Upper Tribunal (retired), North Muskham, Nottinghamshire


Spare us this expense

The SRA is proposing to bring back the requirement that retired solicitors must from April 2023 apply to remain on the roll of solicitors and pay an annual fee of £30 to £40 for the privilege.


If ever there was a ‘jobsworth’ exercise this is it. I can understand the need to check, from time to time, that deceased solicitors do not remain on the roll, but surely a five-year interval for that purpose would suffice and should be paid for from general funds. The administrative expense should certainly not be loaded on to retired solicitors such as me. The Law Society should object to this proposed imposition.


Richard Snow

Poole, Dorset