A smaller council and a management board including lay members feature in proposals for a new governance model for the Law Society expected to be put before the Society's governing body later this month.
Dr Nicola Nicholls, the independent lead of the Law Society governance review, gave a preview of her findings to the annual conference of Law Society presidents and secretaries in Chancery Lane today.
She said the governance review will propose:
- A smaller elected council than the current 96 members, with more representation from in-house, young and City solicitors.
- Council members to serve terms of six years to ensure more turnover.
- Most governance decisions to be taken by a 'small appointed board' of no more than 12 individuals under a non-executive chair who would be appointed for four years.
- The board would include three lay members with specialist skills. At the moment the need is for 'someone with financial skills, someone with communications experience and someone who really knows digital,' Nicholls said.
Nicholls' 28-page report is expected to go before the Law Society Council on 18 May. The new structure would free up management, make council more representative - and save money, she said. 'I'm talking about big six-figure savings.'
Nicholls said she had considered proposing that the president serve two years rather than the present one year, but rejected this as it would be unrealistic to ask working lawyers to take two years out from their jobs. 'It is really important to have someone active in the law' as president, she said.
Introducing Nicholls, Law Society vice-president Robert Bourns said that the decision to carry out the governance review did not imply that anything in the current model is broken, but rather the need to cater for the future shape of the profession. By 2020, for example, 35% of solicitors will be working in-house, he said.
The proposals sparked a lively debate, with one delegate criticising the appointed board as a new layer of bureaucracy and several questioning the need to appoint lay members.
However Mushtaq Khan, immediate past president of Birmingham Law Society, said the new structure would be 'very much what is regarded as good practice'. The current governance structure is 'not fit for purpose, not fleet of foot', he said.