Do we want second time lucky?
21 May 1996
3 May 1996
3 May 1996
7 January 1997
23 June 1998
12 September 1997
The decision of Law Society president Martin Mears to drop his working party on entry to the profession has largely gone unnoticed.
Mears invited me to join the working party because I had acted for the Council of Legal Education when it ran into difficulties introducing a selection system to reduce numbers seeking entry to the Bar Vocational Course at the Inns of Court School of Law.
Although an interim report of the working party was prepared for submission to the Law Society's Council meeting on 25 January, it was held back after dissent from a number of members (including myself).
Mears apparently decided there were "a number of issues that required discussion by the full working party before a report [could] be made to the council". However, no such opportunity for discussion was allowed. Instead, on 11 April Mears wrote to the members advising them of his conclusion that there was no further useful work the working party could do.
But the question of the supposed over-supply of entrants to the profession appears to remain an important issue to both Mears and Robert Sayer, Law Society vice-president and chair of the working party. If re-elected, they plan to set up another working party to consider whether an additional layer of tests should be imposed on applicants for entry to LPC courses.
The underlying objective remains the same - namely to reduce the number of entrants to the profession.
It is a fair assumption that any new working party's terms of reference would be framed to avoid the inconvenience of having to take account of the advice from Richard Drabble QC.
He said that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to introduce changes to the qualification regulations if the true purpose is to reduce numbers. Any changes would have to have the approval of the Lord Chancellor under the Courts and Legal Services Act machinery.
There would also be strong objections from the Director General of Fair Trading on grounds of competition.
It would have been easy enough for Mears to have said that the original working party had given anxious consideration to the problems of over-supply and lack of available training contracts; that there were, however, insuperable legal difficulties in making changes to the training regulations with the aim of reducing numbers; and that the operation of market forces was leading to numbers coming more closely into line with the jobs available anyway.
Instead, he has made public his views that leading counsel's opinion, and the instructions upon which it was based, were unnecessarily negative; he has insinuated that his political opponents engineered the membership of the working party to ensure at least some of them were hostile to the objectives it was established for; and he has claimed its work was sabotaged by the leaking of counsel's opinion.
The profession will have to decide in due course whether to give Mears a second year in office to enable him to pursue the policies designed to protect solicitors from market forces, even if they stand little chance of being put into practice.
He may in any event have to justify the many thousands of pounds spent on the now disbanded working party not only in seeking counsel's advice but also, for example, in commissioning outside research into the use of tests in employee recruitment and into aptitude testing.
The profession should be entitled to know how its money has been spent, particularly by a president concerned with the cost burden on those in practice. At the very least the council should insist that the interim report prepared in January and the notes of dissent should be made available to it before authorising any further resources to be devoted to this issue.
When he was elected, Mears expressed the hope that at the end of 12 months he would be able to seek re-election on the basis of his "recognisable achievements".
How is the profession to judge those achievements when he attempts to obscure them by prematurely winding up a working party he set up?
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