A vision for the future

Kamlesh Bahl says her experience as head of the EOC makes her well qualified to tackle the Law Society's problems. Kamlesh Bahl is chairwoman of the EOC.

I passionately believe that solicitors make a great contribution to British society which needs to be properly valued.

My vision is for solicitors to be the first choice as trusted advisors for legal services. I want solicitors to be the public's first choice as legal advisers for some of the most important decisions in their life; first choice for the Government in the delivery of publicly-funded legal services; first choice for business for the legal services needed to promote competitiveness and a successful economy; and first choice for the community for access to justice.

All too often as a profession we think we stand alone in facing the problems of change, competition and consumer demand. But we have not been singled out for unfavourable treatment by a powerful government. Ask other professionals like doctors and accountants.

Our profession is at a turning point. The competitive pressures on us are intense, whether it is the small practice struggling for survival in the face of legal aid reforms or the large firm grappling with the dramatic changes in the complex international legal market.

Equally it may be the local government solicitor facing the challenge of best value; or the commerce and industry solicitor demonstrating the value of in-house legal services in a cut-throat commercial environment; or the young solicitor working ever longer hours with an uncertain future.

The increasing number of women lawyers, many of whom are pioneering a way to juggle work and family, and ethnic minority lawyers, who have invested so much time and money in qualifying, face an uphill struggle. Do we really wish trainee solicitors to start their careers grappling with a burden of debt?

As a profession we need vision. We need to overcome small-mindedness, internal politics and rivalries. We need to close the gap between the positive perception the public has of their individual solicitor and the negative “fat cat” image of the profession as a whole. We must show the true value of solicitors by showcasing how, as members of the community, we understand its needs.

We can do this by highlighting our role as champions of individual rights in a democratic society. We must demonstrate how we have our finger on the pulse because we are often the first port of call for the public. We must highlight how vital our role is in the success of business and commercial transactions. We must show the role we play as officers of the court in upholding the fundamental principles of law and order.

My opponent, David Keating, has queried whether I have the right experience for this role. My experience spans working over 20 years as a lawyer and buyer of legal services with the Greater London Council, British Steel, Texaco and Data Logic, culminating in my appointment as an executive board member. I have also been a Law Society Council member for 10 years.

In my current role as chairwoman of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), I lead a high-profile national organisation whose principal task is to champion access to justice for individuals by using the law, something in which it has an excellent track record. At the EOC I have gained extensive experience of dealing with politicians and civil servants at national and international levels. This will be particularly relevant, because it is with the Government that we will have to negotiate the solutions to so many of the problems facing private practice.

The EOC, like so many other public bodies, has been under considerable pressure to modernise, be efficient and provide value for money. Again, this will be directly relevant in tackling the similar challenges facing the Law Society.

I think it is a mistake to draw boundaries within the profession. It is more than the sum of its constituent parts and it is that diversity which is one of our greatest strengths. I hold all solicitors in the same esteem and would regard it as my responsibility to represent all sides of the profession.

What we need is leadership with vision, toughness and realism to tackle the issues. We can draw on experience, wisdom and support well beyond our own profession or even the confines of private practice to construct a strategy of “win, win”. My broader experience makes me conscious of the wider opportunities available to solicitors. If elected, I would use my position to share ideas with the profession to ensure we all succeed.

I want to see a modern, effective and inclusive profession which is the first choice for legal services. Help me to achieve that vision by making me your first choice as deputy vice-president.

Michael Napier outlines his vision for the Law Society on page 18. Plus next week in the Lawyer: profiles of Bahl's opponent David Keating as well as David McIntosh and Michael Napier.