No march on Chancery Lane

Write to: The Editor, The Lawyer, 50 Poland Street, London W1V 4AX, fax 0171 970 4395, e-mail lawyer.edit@chiron.co.uk, DX44700 Soho Square. Christopher Hales, chairman, November Meeting Group working party.

Shaun Pye's article, "D-day for the November Group" (The Lawyer, 28 April), noted the reluctance of the group to respond to his enquiries.

This reluctance to respond arose out of a feeling on the part of the group's working party that there had already been enough "trial by newspaper" over the future of the Solicitors Indemnity Fund (SIF), and that it was important to concentrate on putting a reasoned case in response to the Law Society's consultation paper on the subject.

Having said that, I should like to comment on the article, as it contains an implication that requires correction and tends to give a false impression of the attitude and aims of the group.

Mr Pye uses emotive terms, referring to the group as a "pressure group", as having a "hatred" of SIF, and the group's "destructive zeal", which rather draws comparisons with action groups such as poll tax protesters, animal rights and the like. Nothing could be further from the truth; there will be no march on Chancery Lane.

On the contrary, the group has throughout sought to put across its views, which are by now surely clear, by reasoned debate which has included a meeting between the then president and vice-president of the Law Society and myself, a meeting between the group's working party and the management of SIF, written submissions to the Appleby Committee and a meeting between John Appleby, a fellow member of his committee, Paul Clements and myself following the lodgement of those submissions.

All these meetings were conducted in an atmosphere of calmness and courtesy, without any manifestation of the sentiments attributed to the group in Mr Pye's article.

The implication I refer to is in relation to the group's attitude to small firms and sole practitioners The group does not see it as a "them and us" situation. While the statistics over the past four years clearly show that those whose claims have greatly exceeded their contributions are largely to be found among firms with four principals or less, it has always been the position of the group that it is most important and in the public interest that competent and efficient small firms and sole practitioners should be able to carry on their practices without undue burdens such as the SIF contributions of late, not to mention the proposed levy to collect the shortfall.

This view came to the forefront at the first meeting of the group in November 1995. The group's complaint is that they, as well as many other firms, large and small, have been called upon to subsidise the negligence and even defalcations of a significant minority of badly run firms, something that could have been avoided if proper underwriting principles had been applied, such as are applied in the market, rather than an across-the-board levy under a statutory so-called mutual. Indeed, we in the group's working party have had many approaches from smaller practices expressing support and enthusiasm for the group's activities and objectives.

I hope this corrects the misconceptions that have arisen from what appears to be a collection of sound bites given in unsolicited telephone calls.

In conclusion, I would stress that the group does have much to say and will be saying it in a formal and reasoned response to the Law Society's consultation paper.