Separate from the rest?

Arnold Rosen believes that the Sole Practioners Group still has some way to go before it is able to achieve its goals

The Sole Practitioners Group has the unenviable task of clubbing the unclubbable. Tim Miller examines the problems it faces

The Sole Practitioners Steering Group was founded by me with the support of 14 people, none of whom I knew before April 1991. It was an act of faith that sole practitioners could, if encouraged, play a part in the government of their own professional lives.

I am a conviction politician and ask, four years on, what the creation of the SPG has achieved for sole practitioners and for the profession. John Young, president elect, has been the patron saint of sole practitioners since 1992 and has been a member of the council for 24 years.

What have we achieved?

We have not asked how much longer control of a client account by a sole practitioner will remain a right and not a privilege.

We have not yet established the need for standard software systems for solicitors' accounts; checklists for conveyancers and litigators is obvious. A computerised standard practice management system is long overdue for all small firms. We ought to be giving it to small firms and the Gazette should run a competition to find the most innovative sole practitioner office to hold as an example.

Young and I both have to deal with the rise in claims against the indemnity and compensation funds. It is said that sole practitioners feature in a disproportionate number of claims. The expense of practice concerns us all.

In summer 1990 I began a correspondence with the Law Society over discrimination by lending institutions against sole practitioners on their conveyancing panels. In December 1994 the council of the Law Society addressed the problem by way of separate representation of buyer and lender in residential property conveyance.

In January 1995 the underlying problem remains.

If the default of sole practitioners is met by a compensation fund that is administered on discretionary principles that are less favourable to the victims of loss than the indemnity fund which covers partnerships, then why should lending institutions not continue to discriminate?

In May 1993 the secretary general of the Law Society was the first guest speaker at a general meeting of the SPG. The issue of discrimination by lending institutions was the major source of discontent.

I had conceded a resolution signed by 503 sole practitioners that a small firms directorate ought to be created at Chancery Lane. This was diluted to an expression of hope that the council would find ways of improving life for the small firms who make up 82 per cent of the profession.

After 18 months we have the roadshows about to roll.

Is Young tuning into rank and file waveband or getting ready to transmit on Law Society communications directorate megahertz?

Openness in the application of principle to the operation of the compensation fund is long overdue. Young knows of my fears that the compensation fund is administered in a way that encourages discrimination against sole practitioners and perpetuates sole practitioners' hostility to the society.

The society will have to decide whether sole practitioners are part of the same profession as the rest. As the President says: Less confrontation; more co-operation. I have had absolutely no co-operation from those who administer the compensation fund.

All sole practitioners who care about their profession and their future will become computerised and on e-mail so that any decisions to be taken by the SPG can be democratic and practically instantaneous – larger firms could join.

Now that really would focus the minds of the leadership of the Law Society and the SPG.

Arnold Rosen is chair of the Sole Practitioners Group.