Law Society president Woolf moves to appease City critics

During the past few years the City’s biggest criticism of the Law Society is that it has failed to represent its needs. But that is all set to change if the society’s first female president can make her wishes become reality.

Fiona Woolf is a week into her new role, having succeeded past president Kevin Martin at the Law Society’s Annual General Meeting on 13 July. The CMS Cameron McKenna consultant has been heavily involved in Law Society work for more than a decade, but it is as president that she will have the greatest influence on the profession.

Woolf is determined to use her year in office to persuade Camerons and its competitors that the Law Society does have a role to play for the City. She is planning a number of new initiatives designed to increase City firms’ participation and involvement in the society.

Chief among these is a series of visits that Woolf will be carrying out, together with her City of London Law Society counterpart David McIntosh. As revealed by The Lawyer (17 July), the pair plan to visit every law firm in the top 100 to get more input as to what they want from the society.

But Woolf’s ambitions are wider than mere visits. “One of the things we’ve already put in place is a regulatory affairs service,” she explains.

Woolf herself is now in charge of the representative side of the profession only, since the regulatory/representative split in January.

However, she feels strongly that this does not preclude the representative half from having an input into regulation, and with this in mind she is inviting firms to raise queries and issues with the new service. The Law Society will then take any issues to the regulatory body. “I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff out there where just the guidance could be made clearer, or we could lighten up the whole regime,” Woolf says, outlining some of the ways in which the service could work.

The other groups that Woolf is seeking to target during the next year are young lawyers and in-house solicitors. She says that the recent merger of the Young Solicitors Group and the Trainee Solicitors Group creates a powerful new force that could potentially drive future policy.

“It’s good from the Law Society’s point of view, because if you can create something which really works for the young then we’ve really engaged with 50 per cent of the profession,” Woolf says.

Woolf acknowledges that the Law Society needs to work more closely with the profession and that a recent survey asking lawyers what they wanted from its representative body produced some disappointing results.

“I did know that the profession had a fairly low opinion of the services that it gets,” she says. “But the one thing that did surprise me was that they really didn’t value the regional offices.

“The other thing that was a bit sad was that the profession didn’t value the law reform work, unless it affected their pockets and their ability to practise.”

As the year progresses, Woolf will be following the development of the Legal Services Bill, which offers a new era for the profession. However, she does not believe that the new Legal Services Board will sit back and allow the Law Society and the Bar Council to get on with their regulatory duties.

“For the Lord Chancellor to suggest to me that the Legal Services Board would not use its powers is naive in the extreme,” Woolf says, adding: “I do worry about the cost of the whole shebang.”

With the City visits poised to begin within the next few months, Woolf will certainly be kept busy juggling the various needs of the increasingly diverse profession she now leads.