The Law Society and Bar Council were playing down fundamental differences of opinion over David Clementi’s review of regulation last week, as the first signs of friction emerged between the two sides of the profession.
Law Society chief executive Janet Paraskeva had written to the Financial Times last month after the paper ran an interview with new Bar Council chair Stephen Irwin QC, in which he said that multidisciplinary partnerships (MDPs), with their mix of lawyers and other businesspeople, were “bad karma” and “just a marketing tool”. Paraskeva insisted that solicitors took a more “contemporary” view of MDPs, provided “the right safeguards” could be ensured. The Society was also said to be “stung” over the Bar Council’s line that barristers should not lose powers of self-regulation for “other people’s mistakes”, a reference to the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors’ (OSS) poor track record on complaints handling.
Paraskeva and Irwin set out their respective positions on the major issues of the review by the Prudential Chairman, to be published in an article in next week’s edition of The Lawyer. “We aren’t attacking the Bar Council, we just have a different view,” Paraskeva insisted. “The sole practitioner and the solicitor’s firm are different economic models and the one thing driving the reform is competition. Some 50 per cent of our members are in big firms and global, international practices, and what they need is a regulator that can respond to their needs in international business; and that’s quite different from the sole practice, in which each member of the independent bar employs themselves.”
On the bar’s objection to MDPs, Irwin said: “It’s not a question of being contemporary or fashionable – regulation is just too important. If you place a lawyer in a position where he or she has financial interests in common with people who don’t have ethical obligations, you’re creating a recipe for trouble.” And the reason why MDPs are “bad karma”, he argued, is that they “destroy organisations that have good ethics”.
As for the future of self-regulation, Irwin said that the bar’s “principle objective” was “to come out of this with an extremely efficient, effective and cheap self-regulation system intact”. “The key thing is [the regulatory regime] doesn’t turn into some bureaucratic and expensive ‘one size fits all’ solution,” he said. “There is an alternative, and the bar, on any view, regulates itself very well and should continue to do so.” Paraskeva insisted that “self-regulation does work for solicitors”. “The mistake is that people think complaints handling is what self-regulation is all about.” She added that it was one part of a number of roles the Society plays, but one that attracted most attention. She also said that the OSS’s worst problems are now behind it. “We’ve had six months now where we’ve been closing more cases than we’ve been receiving, and that’s not just a blip,” she said.