Gearing up for a new year of war and peace

“DETENTE time” was the plaintive pre-Christmas cry of the Law Society's own journal, The Gazette.

In an editorial, the magazine called for unity and a constructive approach in the society's dealings with the Government over such crucial issues as legal aid and divorce reform.

The president's column followed. In it Martin Mears succeeded in insulting, in succession, the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the Bar Council and the “ersatz reformers” on the Law Society's own council.

He said in the House of the Lords “the flunkies do at least dress up” and described the chamber as “an excellent place to doze while one's wife goes shopping”. The series of jibes perfectly illustrate Mears' continued determination not to become part of the Law Society establishment.

So long as he maintains his resolve not to conform, and with half an eye on the next elections that resolve is likely to remain strong, lasting detente remains unlikely.

But what of it? Many solicitors will be aware of the bitter infighting within the society since Mears' election, alongside the occasional furore caused by his uncompromising pronouncements on sensitive issues such as discrimination.

But Chancery Lane has continued to function and has, on occasions, done rather well.

A recent conference of local law society press officers was, for example, very impressed by the society's counter attack against Consumer Association allegations that firms were providing a shoddy service.

And the crunch December meeting on conveyancing did see Mears and vice president Robert Sayer willing to stomach a last minute climb down over their plan to deprive cost cutters of

Indemnity Fund cover, despite weeks of intense lobbying for the scheme to be introduced as soon as possible.

The forthcoming debates on complaints handling and entry into the legal profession, the two major Mears bugbears, could well follow a similar pattern – posturing, private and public threats, recriminations, followed by a last minute compromise.

Put in its best possible light the split at the top of the society does appear to be fostering a creative tension which could just bring about some inventive solutions to some very tricky problems.

Alongside a series of working parties set up by Mears, for example, is one set up by the Law Society which plans to cut the practising certificate this year by £75.

The downside of this predicament is the squabbling and duplication which will continue to sap staff morale and make one key Law Society task this year, the appointment of a successor to secretary general John Hayes, all the more difficult.

On the possibility of challenging Mears in the summer elections, council members are being extremely cautious.

They point out that after just a year Mears would be able to pin the blame for any failures on the strength of the establishment he was elected to oppose.

A return to normality at the Law Society may be a long way off.