Law Society must make amends for SIF debacle

FINALLY it seems that the Law Society has bowed to the inevitable by conceding that law firms should be allowed to purchase their indemnity insurance on the open market. Yes, on paper a compulsory mutual solicitors indemnity fund could be better for the profession as a whole. But what the society has only just realised is that a mutual fund will only work if firms want to join it.

Sadly, the Law Society had one chance to make the Solicitors Indemnity Fund (SIF) work, and it blew it spectacularly. SIF quite rightly lost the trust and respect of the profession back in 1997 when it announced a shortfall of £248m, which later rocketed to £454m. Ever since then the society has been mounting a desperate, and incompetent, rearguard action to save it. "You know what you want, but we know what you need," has been its patronising attitude.

In August, attempts to preserve the fund reached ludicrous levels when the society "leaked" selected data from its consultation exercise to its journal, the Gazette, to misleadingly claim that seven out of 10 solicitors were supportive of SIF.

The "leak" was the society's immature response to the City of London Law Society's decision to call for the fund's abolition. Instead of taking on board the City's reasoned views and, let's face it, the City firms know a bit about how to practise the law, the Law Society appeared more interested in trying to rescue SIF.

As things stand the Law Society is a discredited institution, despite the many good things it does, and the many good staff it has on its books. Even the very people it appears most keen to help – the sole practitioners and high street firms – are up in arms.

Over the years The Lawyer has been a harsh critic of the society. As the only high-circulation independent weekly legal newspaper we talk to a great many solicitors, and the vast majority view it as, at best, an irrelevance. Our stance reflects this fact. This month the three newly-elected leaders of the Law Society, along with its chief executive, Jane Betts, begin a mission to remould the society. We wish them luck. They need it.