Law Society chief executive Janet Paraskeva is a proud advocate of the decriminalisation of cannabis. And given the stressful year the Law Society has had, it is easy to see why she would like to “legalise the herb”.
In July, the society lost an employment tribunal against former vice-president Kamlesh Bahl on grounds of race and sex discrimination. Its response? To abolish its own equal opportunities committee because of a lack of funds. At the end of the Bahl tribunal, the society was about £5m in debt. In a controversial move back into the black, it voted to raise the cost of its Practising Certificate fee by 31 per cent. City lawyers alone now contribute an extra £2.3m to the professional body.
The main opponent to the increased charge was former president Robert Sayer, who forced a £50,000 postal vote on the issue in August. A bit rich, according to some commentators. Sayer was a main defendant in the Bahl tribunal, which cost the society over £1m. He lost the postal ballot and the fee has risen. The extra money should come in handy. The society is now appealing the Bahl decision – as is Bahl herself.
“When I was in the gym last night I was thinking about this interview. I knew you’d ask me what my strategy was. Well, my ultimate strategy is to get fit so that I’m not completely outshone by my 15-year-old son when we go skiing soon”
John Heller of Hammond Suddards Edge in the Fiona Callister Interview, 19 February
Still, the society has come a long way in its professional conduct since Sayer’s 1999-2000 presidency. It is well known that incumbent president David McIntosh does not see eye to eye with Law Society Council member for the City Christopher Digby-Bell, who has had his own reform package for the society widely published. But by October Digby-Bell had not attended an entire council meeting. “It’s a great shame,” McIntosh told The Lawyer. Contrast this response to Sayer’s 1999 comments about one of his opponents, former presidential candidate Colin Keating. “He’s a complete pillock,” Sayer said of Keating, while calling Keating’s lawyer Martin Mears “a piece of dog turd”. Oh, how times have changed.
Talking of time, at the beginning of the year the Government criticised the Law Society’s handling of complaints about solicitors and ordered it to deal with its backlog of 6,000 within three months. This target was achieved. In December, the society also made a Christmas pledge to give money to the tune of £16m back to clients and solicitors which had been left in firms that it had shut down.
Showing a lack of festive cheer this time, the society put its wine cellar on the market for £100,000 at the end of the year. But it has taken care to remind members that fine wines are still available in the Chancery Lane bar. After its turbulent 2001, The Lawyer would urge the Law Society executive to spend some of the Christmas slowdown relaxing in the bar with a selection of those fine wines.