Law Society elections. Putting things right at the Law Society

David Keating cites the reasons for a lack of faith in the Law Society, and justifies his candidacy for the post of deputy vice-president. David Keating is a sole practitioner. For as long as I can remember, solicitors have regarded the Law Society as either a nuisance or an irrelevance.

This hostility – or at best apathy – resulted in a turnout of only 30 per cent in last year's elections for Law Society president. This year, of the 15 Law Society Council seats which came up for election, only one was contested.

None of this would matter if we were looking at student politics, where the participants pass resolutions in a world of make-believe.

But what happens at Chancery Lane is only too real for solicitors. It affects their incomes and professional lives.

Let me give three examples:

Indemnity insurance. For years this has been a major overhead for most firms. Last year it transpired that the Solicitors Indemnity Fund (SIF) had miscalculated its prospective liabilities. The result is a bill for the shortfall that amounts to £460m, and which has to be paid by the profession over the next seven years. All practising principals will contribute, even those who were admitted after the time the liabilities were incurred.

Some say that the shortfall was inevitable. Others say that SIF could have managed its affairs a little better. Whatever the truth, SIF is an agency of the Law Society and how it does its job matters to all of us.

The Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS). This is the revamped, renamed Solicitors Complaints Bureau (SCB). It is now generally accepted that the SCB was a disaster.

The OSS looks like moving in the same direction. It is the object of criticism from all quarters – the latest being the pamphlet from Labour think tank the Fabian Society.

But the OSS is our public face. If it is discredited, it is our reputation which suffers. In the longer term, a discredited and unpopular OSS makes it likely that complaints handling and self-regulation will be taken away from us altogether.

We would instead be supervised by a government quango for which we would pay more and over which we would have no control. We would also lose the hallmark of being a profession.

Continuing education. As of November this year, the continuing education rules apply to all practising solicitors. Everyone accepts the necessity for solicitors to keep up to date with new developments in law and practice. But you have only to look at one of the circulars regularly produced by the course providers to see what a staggering cost for high street practices the CPD rules could bring to bear.

Here is a real opportunity for the Law Society, working in conjunction with local law societies, to set up a cost-effective training programme where any profits go to the local law societies and benefit us, the profession.

If we are to have a Law Society at all, then it is worth taking the trouble to elect the right people to run it. But why should solicitors vote for me?

I claim no particular wisdom. What I can offer, however, is an extensive experience of all areas of practice, together with evidence of a genuine commitment to the interests of the profession.

Experience? I was trained in a large central London firm. Thereafter, I spent some years as an employed solicitor working for a local authority. Most of my career, however, has been spent in private practice as a sole practitioner and as a partner (later managing partner) in a medium-sized country firm.

Commitment? I have been president of my local law society and served on the Law Society Council since 1988. During his year of office, I did not join the attacks on Martin Mears because I welcomed many (though not all) of his ideas for change. I have held various appointments including the chairmanship of the North East Legal Services Committee. I am currently chairman of the Law Society's international committee.

I have no personal criticism of my opponent, Kamlesh Bahl. Then why do I stand against her?

The answer is that Miss Bahl has never been in private practice and it is some years since she earned her living as a solicitor. She has no experience of the day-to-day problems of practice, particularly those of the ever-threatened high street.

I am qualified to represent my fellow solicitors, at least to the extent that my knowledge of them and their affairs is a real, practical and extensive one.

See viewpoint, page 16.