Who's afraid of an elected society?
8 August 1995
The achievement of our new president is that he and his vice-president openly state they intend to be judged on their record in office.
To the mediocre and malevolent such intentions must spell doom for their free elections to office. I forecast that henceforth our profession will have access to information about how it has hitherto been governed. It will open eyes as to the poor leadership that has handicapped solicitors.
Pessimism from an ex-president like Tony Holland (The Lawyer 1 August 'Come to terms with law's new face') does not seem to suggest a balanced assessment of our future now there has been an election.
To suggest Mears and Sayer were elected purely on account of an aggrieved minority of the profession reveals an inability to face facts. It is the projection of a former member of the Law Society Council who cannot understand how much discontent there is in the profession and disappointment in the apparent response of the council to communicate its utility to the membership.
He asks why if all other professions have not escaped the revolution we should expect the law to be an exception. I do not believe the profession as a whole thinks that way. Teachers; doctors; university dons; engineers all have elections for office of those who lead them. This ex-president argued that nomination by council members and not election by the membership was the right way for a president of the Law Society to be chosen.
Where I disagree is in challenging the assumption that "change has been handled relatively well by the Law Society and a lot has been achieved over the past 10 years". So speaks a man who spent 20 years as a council member. His words reveal how out of touch he is. Legal aid has risen to a staggering £1.5 billion and Holland tells us that "nearly all finds its way into the pockets of the profession" - stated as a matter of pride by a man who has been a leader of the profession since 1976.
In 1976 I well remember the trade unionist leaders who saw only self-aggrandisement for their members and never mind the public. That is exactly the image given by the Law Society Council to Parliament.
The profession has just suffered a massive blow in the recession in land sales. It is about to suffer another in the cut back on legal aid funding. Chancery Lane's record in this area suggests extraordinary obtuseness.
That an ex-president should say "we put all this at risk if we think we have not achieved enough" indicates to me that he fails to see that the day of reckoning is fast approaching.
No doubt for that day of reckoning, the nomenclature will blame a president elected by popular suffrage for the first time in living memory and the aggrieved minority who put him in place. Had elections been held long before now then no manifesto could have avoided discussion of the legal aid budget and the dependence of the ever-growing profession upon the whim of the Treasury.
I must hope Holland will not ignore the positive opportunities to council and staff that come from an elected president. If he does he condemns himself to the role of another Edward Heath whose distaste for his successor prevented him from making any real contribution in government.
It is not too late for Holland to ask himself the question: "Is it just possible that the thousands of his professional colleagues who elected Mears and Sayer are right?"
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