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England’s leading group of in-house lawyers is facing a commercial battle with its own professional body for the training market following a recent split over independence.
The Commerce & Industry Group, which has 6,000 corporate and individual members, divorced from the Law Society earlier this year, sacrificing an annual grant in favour of being able to chart its own strategic path. It is now bracing to go head-to-head with Chancery Lane, as the representative body attempts to bump up its income through expanded commercial offerings.
The Law Society’s year-old in-house division is understood to be boosting its programme of events for the corporate and public in-house sectors, which include an annual conference, networking sessions and training for in-house solicitors.
But the C&I Group’s recently elected chairman, Mark Harvey, maintains his organisation offers in-housers far better services. “The C&I Group is strong on training, whereas the Law Society’s division isn’t,” he told The Lawyer last week. “That’s part of the reason for our independence. The society’s division is just starting to run a few seminars, but it is not doing the big-scale events we do.”
Harvey, who is head of legal at charity Age UK and co-chairman of the In-house Charities Lawyers Group, also pointed out that his group provides training beyond strict black-letter law issues, verging into areas such as management and risk. “In-house counsel are increasingly having to take on wider briefs than just being pure lawyers,” he said. “In many businesses they are being asked to advise on strategy and methodology.”
A Chancery Lane spokeswoman said the two bodies continued to co-operate and dismissed suggestions of a row over the split. “The society maintained a collaborative relationship with C&I throughout this process and we would like to continue to have strong links with them,” she said.
However, she held out the prospect of increased competition for the attentions and cash of in-house lawyers, pointing out that Chancery Lane “offers CPD via Law Society events and programmes dedicated to in-house solicitors. We are not setting out specifically to compete with C&I, but to fulfil our strategic goal of direct engagement with members of and offer valued services”.
The society’s in-house division has a wider brief than the C&I group, covering central and local government lawyers as well as those in commercial departments. Harvey said his group welcomed any future competition from Chancery Lane, claiming there was “a potential market for both, as the in-house world has got much bigger”.
The C&I Group has recently struck an international agreement that sees it joining networking group In-house Counsel Worldwide, an organisation consisting of national bodies from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.