With the legal profession in the throes of momentous change, new Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson is determined to have his say on the implementation of the Legal Services Bill
The Law Society’s new chief executive Desmond Hudson has picked up one of the most demanding jobs in the profession at a time when it is undergoing radical change.
Although he has barely had a chance to settle into his office, Hudson is already preparing to lobby the Government over the Legal Services Bill alongside Law Society president Fiona Woolf. The bill will reshape the entire legal landscape of the UK, with sweeping changes to rules such as how law firms are owned and managed.
The Law Society agrees with the joint committee which scrutinised the draft bill, that it potentially compromises the independence of the legal profession. Hudson is determined to make sure he gets this point over to Parliament.
“There’s a sense where we need to have regulation that’s proportionate and effective,” Hudson admits. “But independence in the legal profession is important on a number of levels. It’s important to a modern, effective democracy.”
The lobbying will be handled in a manner intended to get results, however. “You don’t do that just by being a bull in a china shop when it comes to influencing parliamentarians,” Hudson says.
Hudson praises the work already carried out by the Law Society during the past year, particularly the regulatory and representative split, which came into effect in January 2006. He describes the Law Society Council’s decision to approve the division of powers as “courageous and informed”, and believes it is a key part of his job to help drive the continued development of the organisation forward.
“What we’ve got to do is build a modern and representative body that delivers real value for money,” Hudson says.
Hudson comes to the Law Society from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (Icas), where he was chief executive for just two years. However, his background is not in accountancy, but in law. Hudson originally trained and qualified as a solicitor and was in private practice for seven years before moving in-house to the Yorkshire Building Society.
However, Hudson is very aware of the fact that it is now many years since he practised.
“I’ve some understanding of the basic concepts, such as the importance of being a member of the legal profession,” he says. “But it’s very important I remember that I have an awful lot to learn.”
The position of Law Society chief executive became vacant earlier this year when Janet Paraskeva, the first incumbent, announced that she was stepping down after six years in the role. During her time in office Paraskeva often courted controversy, particularly during the last year as she picked up a number of part-time, non-executive roles for organisations such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) and the Consumer Council for Water.
Hudson declines to comment on the criticism directed at Paraskeva, saying instead: “For me this is absolutely a full-time job.”
He is already planning meetings with solicitors across England and Wales to gauge what they need and what their concerns are.
“I don’t think you can sit in your office five days a week, nine to five,” Hudson says of the position of chief executive. “We’re focused on listening to what the profession needs of the Law Society and on delivering it.”
Hudson says he was attracted to the role because of the regulatory changes sweeping through the legal profession.
“I wanted to go for it because of the specialness of the job,” Hudson explains. “This is a very interesting time to be involved in the Law Society; there’s a whole chain of challenges and complex events.”
In other ways, though, Hudson plans to be more hands-off.
“What I learnt at Icas is that membership bodies are controlled and policy decisions are taken by the representatives of the members, not by the chief executive,” he says. “The other point I learnt at Icas is that running a membership organisation is far more complex than running a business. This is a more complicated animal than a plc.”
Hudson is also working to build up relationships with the other legal professional bodies, such as the Bar Council, in order to drive debates such as the issue of legal professional privilege or the Carter review into legal aid.
“The Law Society would want to be – and is – a good friend of all the professional bodies carrying out legal work,” Hudson says. “It’s a relationship where we can debate and discuss these things in a friendly fashion.”
Hudson has a tough job ahead of him, but he is embarking on the challenge with relish.
Education: University of Leeds, law degree, graduating 1977
Work history: 1980 – qualified as a solicitor with Foysters;
1980-87 – assistant solicitor, Linder Myers Solicitors, Goldberg Blackburn & Howards;
1987-92 – in-house legal team, Yorkshire Building Society;
1992-95 – head of lending, Britannia Building Society;
1995 – operations director, Britannia Life;
1996-98 – managing director, Britannia Life;
1998-99 – chief executive, Scottish Media Group (SMG) publishing division;
1999-2004 – appointed director of SMG; September
2004-06 – chief executive, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland;
September 2006 – chief executive, Law Society of England and Wales