The Sycamore plan: a new era, a new approach

Philip Sycamore is set to modernise but there are still some sacred cows he plans to protect. Law Society president Phillip Sycamore is set to adopt a liberal stance to changes in the legal profession at this week's conference.

He will use his conference speech to paint the profession as willing to work with, rather than against, the Government in implementing its planned reforms of the legal system.

But some cows still remain sacred.

“Clearly conditional fees have been a success and we encourage their extension, but that must not be seen a substitute for legal aid,” warned Sycamore.

He cites medical negligence cases as one category of litigation which is particularly unsuited to conditional fee agreements because of the risk of huge costs if a case fails.

Sycamore does not believe the parents of brain-damaged children should be deprived of the chance to sue for damages because they cannot afford to pay legal costs insurance.

Far from increasing access to justice, he argues, such a scenario would lead to even fewer people being able to take their cases to court.

Sycamore is also preparing to promote change in the profession by warning that fear of the unknown should not lead lawyers to reject multidisciplinary partnerships (MDPs). Rather, he argues, the issue should be thought through carefully.

Sycamore said it should not be assumed that accountancy firms were simply waiting for MDPs to be permitted so that they could take over; law firms, and that solicitors should explore ways of turning MDPs to their advantage. “We should look at them as an opportunity to offer a range of services,” he explained.

As for a personal crusade at this conference, expect Sycamore to champion the cause of students from poor backgrounds who risk being barred from the profession

Back in 1995, Martin Mears, the first president of the Law Society for decades to be elected by the whole profession, caused a sensation when he attacked the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality.

In 1996, his successor as president, Tony Girling, told the conference that he intended to build bridges between those inside of and outside of the profession.

Sycamore sees this conference as a chance to project himself as someone capable of leading the profession across a river of change.