MARTIN Mears is virtually neck and neck with deputy vice-president Henry Hodge in the battle for the Law Society presidency, reveals an opinion poll by The Lawyer.
The strength of the Norfolk solicitor's anti-establishment challenge in the first contested Law Society election for 40 years has been dramatically revealed by the poll of more than 1,000 lawyers published today.
Thirty seven per cent of the 300 lawyers who definitely planned to vote plumped for Mears, 40 per cent for Hodge and just 23 per cent for Eileen Pembridge, the first ever woman candidate standing for the office.
But the number of undecided voters in the poll, commissioned by The Lawyer, suggests the race is still wide open.
Fifty per cent of the lawyers contacted had not made up their mind whether to vote or who to vote for and 21 per cent said they would not take part in the elections at all.
The poll result appears to confirm Mears' claims of strong grass roots support.
He was voted on to the Law Society council last year on an anti-Chancery Lane ticket and has been consistently critical of the society and its institutions ever since.
In March he sparked off the first poll of society members for decades by challenging the council's own candidate, vice-president John Young.
Hodge emerged as the official Law Society challenger after Young stepped down amid revelations he had been warned by the society over sexual harassment allegations two years' ago.
Both Hodge and Pembridge call for major reform at the society, but Mears' more radical position has been illustrated by the similarity of their assault on his policies which they describe variously as laughable, ill-informed and naive.
In his manifesto Mears claims the society "has lost the confidence of the profession and, in our opinion, deserves to have lost it".
Among his proposals are a cut back in the number of Legal Practice Course places from 3,700 to 1,000 to tackle the oversupply of solicitors, a progressive reduction of society staff and no quotas or targets to tackle sexual and racial discrimination.
Of the three candidates, Mears appears to be running the most effective campaign.
He will not say how much he is spending on his election bid but a string of detailed "position papers" on key issues have proved effective.
Mears' bedrock of support is widely regarded to lie in the high street where he is expected to attract a strong protest vote.
And his campaign has this week received the wholehearted support of the British Legal Association, whose 1,000 members largely represent the High Street constituency. In a letter to members, general secretary Geoffrey Thomas says Mears "shares many of our views and objectives".
The closing date for nominations is this Wednesday and ballot papers will be sent to society members on 14 June. The election result will be announced at the AGM on 13 July.
The poll, conducted by Centaur Telemarketing, is based on a randomly selected sample of solicitors. The margin of error is plus or minus 5.5 per cent.