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In The Lawyer 1 August Tony Holland gives his views on the election of Martin Mears as president of the Law Society.
It comes as no surprise that Mr Holland should express the views set out in that opinion. He probably does reflect the views of the majority of the council of the Law Society and for that reason alone we should be grateful to him for reminding us of the problem which the rank and file of the profession has with its council.
I have to question whether it is in the interests of either our profession or the public at large for us to go down the route of long hours in order to make our livelihoods. It is true that in many of the large commercial firms, long hours for young lawyers are the norm. That is not to say that this should be the norm or that clients benefit from such long hours.
If it is really the view of the Law Society old guard that all solicitors should expect to work such hours throughout their professional lives, then the profession's leadership is in more serious trouble than I thought. It is also a signal failure on the part of our leaders that no attempt has been made to improve our image. The assumption seems to be that our image is incapable of improvement and therefore it is not worth making the effort.
In the 20-plus years I have been in the profession the Law Society has never addressed the problem of our image in a sensible way. It has never sought to highlight the benefit to clients that we are uniquely able to offer. Many clients, while being aware that what they tell a solicitor is confidential, are unaware of just how powerful that confidentiality is compared with accountants.
Few clients are aware of the strict rules with regard to conflicts of interest. In these two areas alone we offer a unique service. Is that service used as a means of improving our public image? The Law Society's Council has abandoned any sense of responsibility for improving the image of solicitors and thus improving their bargaining position.
The difference between lawyers and doctors is that the general public know they cannot do without doctors and therefore they support them. It is surely up to our professional body to remind the general public it cannot do without lawyers either. Gimmicks like Will Week are not the answer. Steady quiet advertising and the presentation of a sensible useful image has always been an answer which the council has failed to come up with.
As a profession we should learn the lesson of the insurance company. A number of companies have been subjected to a penalty as a consequence of insurance mis-selling. At the same time their television and other advertising campaigns did not miss a beat and the bad publicity that followed from the disciplinary action taken against them is forgotten. We have a continuously bad press because we are led by people who lie down and take it.