One of the president's men, probably

“WATCH out for the Sir Humphries,” is one of the pieces of “helpful” advice the new Law Society president Martin Mears received from a supporter.

So impressed was the president with the tip that he decided to include it in his column in the Law Society Gazette.

It was a clear jibe at the Law Society's secretary general John Hayes.

Before his election Mears described Hayes as “more than the Law Society's Sir Humphrey” who had “been in place for nine years while presidents come and go like summer flies”.

For his part, Hayes, who still has a year of his 10-year term to run, appeared unable to resist having a public dig at the new president.

At an international conference last week Hayes described defeated vice-presidential candidate John Aucott as “a visionary rejected by the electorate”.

A Whitehall mandarin describing a defeated Labour leader in such a way would be unimaginable.

This public exchange of jibes is an indication of the gulf that exists between two men whose views about the future of the profession could not be further apart.

Defeated presidential candidate Eileen Pembridge is unimpressed.

“There is a war going on between the two men and I think it is very damaging for the profession.

“They must bury their personal differences and realise that the interests of the profession are paramount.”

Pembridge wants to take advantage of the first democratic election in 40 years to reform the constitution and believes the relationship between the Law Society president and the secretary general should be examined.

But she does not believe all the considerable power now in the hands of the secretary general, who is responsible for all the Law Society administrative appointments, should be taken away and handed to a president who may not last more than a year.

“The profession is a broad church and we have got to have some measure of continuity,” she said.

Former president Tony Holland sees the appointment of the secretary general as one of the Law Society Council's most important tasks precisely because of the power associated with the post. “Martin Mears cannot run the bureaucracy. His is an honorary position,” Holland said. “He has as much experience of running an administration with a £50 million budget as he has of catching rabbits.”

Newly elected council member Anthony Bogan, a Mears supporter, does not agree.

For him, John Hayes and his staff are the servants of the Law Society Council. And while it is important for Martin Mears to persuade the council members of the need for reform he should be able to count on the secretary general's full support.

He responds cautiously to Hayes' comments at the conference.

“If he was implying that the electorate had elected a second rate leader my gut reaction is that he is stepping over a line behind which he should stay.”