After the events of this year, many lawyers could be forgiven if they regretted ever entering the profession. Having been lambasted by the press earlier in the year over extortionate fees, the profession's reputation went from bad to worse, as The Lawyer revealed that the police were investigating links certain City firms had with organised crime. This was then followed by a Dispatches programme uncovering the corrupt practices of solicitors all over the country.
To this we can add the continuing crisis at the Solicitors Indemnity Fund, which is jeopardising the very existence of many high street practices; the threat of new competition on the high street from retailers; provisions in the Access to Justice Bill that will find many firms unqualified for contracting work; and the Government's extension of conditional fees (CFAs) to family law.
The Law Society and the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS) have proved remarkably impotent in dealing with these crises. While the OSS has systematically failed to weed out corrupt solicitors, the Law Society reacted to the investigations into money laundering by claiming they were another example of "lawyer bashing".
And the Law Society's response to the threat posed by the Access to Justice Bill and the extension of CFAs to family cases – which a senior partner at one firm claimed "flies in the face of the spirit of the Family Law Act" – has been muted, to say the least.
Many people both inside and outside the profession have questioned the Law Society's dual role of trade union and regulator. There is a clear conflict of interest when the society reacts to malpractices within the profession by complacency on the one hand and a "head in the sand" mentality on the other.
It is time the profession was regulated by an independent body with appointed lay members. That way, the Law Society can concentrate on representing the profession and lobbying on its behalf. The profession needs a Law Society that will set the agenda for reform – not just react to it – to protect not only its members' interests, but those of consumers as well.