No going back for political president

Martin Mears talks to John Malpas about his opening moves at the Law Society's helm

“OF COURSE I'll stick to my manifesto,” exclaims Martin Mears indignantly when it is suggested he may drop his radical agenda in exchange for a quiet life.

The timing of his elevation to the presidency, just before the traditional summer “silly season”, has made it difficult for him to take Chancery Lane by storm.

But if a temporary summer lull has descended on the Law Society, there is one hallowed institution which has not escaped Mears' clutches – the president's diary.

He has cancelled “dozens and dozens” of presidential engagements so he can concentrate on making a success of what he describes as the first political presidency.

“Up until now the presidency has been a reward for long service for people who have worked their way through the committees.

“That's fine as a reward for long service, but I haven't earned it yet.”

This August, while his deputy Robert Sayer is winging his way to Chicago for the ABA conference, Mears will be holed up in his Chancery Lane office drawing up the Law Society's response to Lord Mackay's Green Paper.

It may not prove to be an auspicious start.

“I have said repeatedly that because of the past negotiating failures of the Law Society this is a very difficult battle to win,” Mears says.

On this issue, Mears cannot be accused of back pedalling. His manifesto stated bluntly: “Legal aid is a battle which during the last few years the Law Society has fought and lost.”

If Mears is going to be judged on his achievements over the next year it will be on his four key manifesto commitments to improve communications, reduce the number of trainees, cut the cost of indemnity insurance and initiate Solicitors Complaints Bureau reform.

Nominations for presidential working parties to tackle the first three issues will be put before the Bar Council for approval in September, when the council will square up to the new president for the first time.

A foretaste of the relationship we can expect occurred just before Mears was elevated to the presidency when the council voted through a quality accreditation scheme despite his stiff resistance.

Mears appears unworried by the snub and agrees with the council that the issue was peripheral to his manifesto.

He warns that resistance to his core reform proposals, however, will be “intolerable”.