As the lawyers’ lawyer, Law Society senior legal adviser Lesley Cameron helps law practices do just that – practise law. By Corinne McPartland
Lesley Cameron has a unique in-house legal role. On one level she deals with the usual in-house jobs such as employment, property issues and contract matters, as well as general litigation. But as head of legal at the Law Society she also has to act as the lawyers’ lawyer for all solicitors across England and Wales.
From negotiating and lobbying with the profession’s regulators and government to offering training and advice, the Law Society’s mission is to protect and promote solicitors across England and Wales.
“Solicitors spend their working lives helping their clients and I think it’s right that the Law Society is there to support and help solicitors when they need it,” explains Cameron.
Cameron says her primary job this year has been to deal with the larger legal project work coming in. One of her major challenges has been to produce a practice note for solicitors when the professional indemnity (PI) insurance renewal sent a wave of unease through the profession.
“PI insurance renewal caused concerns for solicitors last October,” she says. “I worked with my policy colleagues, practitioners, brokers and insurers on ways of helping solicitors to obtain PI cover this year.”
The banking crisis also raised significant concerns about the safety of client accounts and about solicitors’ duties. Once again Cameron and her team provided advice and assisted with the production of another practice note to which solicitors could refer when faced with issues relating to the crisis.
But her job is not just centred around developing one practice note after another. Cameron also provides advice and support to the society’s public affairs team when it came to the confusing points-based immigration system introduced by the Government this year.
Cameron often has to take a step back and not think of herself as a solicitor as she is often administering advice to her own profession, providing advice on subjects that affect all solicitors.
“I advised on our consultation responses to proposals on best-value tendering for criminal legal aid work,” she explains. “And I advised on the contract, competition and procurement law concerns around best-value tendering.
“I’ve also given advice on issues such as virtual courts, notation of legal aid contracts, procurement issues, stage billing, unrecouped payments on account, consortia, fee negotiations, late payments of fees and conditional fees.”
Obviously, representing every single solicitor in England and Wales is a tough job. So it is not surprising that the Law Society’s slim legal team of eight looks externally when faced with more resource-intensive matters.
“We set up panels through open, competitive tendering in the five main areas of our work – employment, contract, litigation, property and IP,” explains Cameron. “I’ve just reviewed and extended those panels for a further term as we’re really pleased with the work that our panel firms are doing for us and the relationships that we’ve developed with them.”
One of the things that has really surprised Cameron since she joined the Law Society back in 2006 is the amount of time and energy solicitors give to the society because they really believe in what it stands for.
“There are so many committed solicitor volunteers who give up their time to contribute on committees. It’s really impressive how many busy practitioners give up so much time to work on improving things for others,” she says.
But what qualities make Cameron stand out from the crowd and help her cope with the challenges she and her team are faced with on a daily basis?
“While it’s my job to be objective, I try not to be the one who says no to the more creative and legally challenging ideas. I prefer to find another way of doing things if at all possible,” she replies. “After all, when you’re in-house, and especially when you’re in Chancery Lane, there really is nowhere to hide.”
Organisation: The Law Society
Senior legal adviser: Lesley Cameron
Reporting to: Head of legal services Anthony Brooks
Number of employees: 1,400
Legal capability: Eight (six in London, two in Redditch)
Main external law firms: Bevan Brittan, Bircham Dyson Bell, Hill Dickinson, Mills & Reeve, Shoosmiths, Lovells
Lesley Cameron’s CV
1978-81: MA (Hons), Law, Hertford College, Oxford
1981-82: Solicitor’s Finals, College of Law, Chancery Lane
1982-84: Articled clerk, Blakeneys Solicitors
1984-86: Assistant, Blakeneys
1986-98: Partner, Blakeneys
1998-2000: Sole practitioner, Lesley Cameron & Co
2000-01: Claims solicitor, Solicitors Indemnity Fund
2001-06: Professional indemnity claims manager, Wellington Underwriting
2006-present: Senior legal adviser, The Law Society