In an election race where both candidates are desperate not to be labelled part of the Law Society establishment, it is perhaps Martin Mears who can best lay claim to the rebel tag.
He ended a long-standing tradition and forced a contested election for the presidency in 1995, which he went on to win.
He then dragged the society out of Chancery Lane and on to the pages of the national press with a series of clashes with women solicitors and staff.
But his appetite for politics is undiminished, and although he narrowly lost the next election, he went on to produce his satirical magazine Caterpillar.
Mears maintains that last January he had a deal to stand for vice-president with Robert Sayer as president. But it collapsed and he joined David Keating and David Savage in a renewed bid for the top job.
Mears admits that small firms of solicitors outside London are his bread and butter supporters, and the £454.5m SIF deficit has proved mana from heaven for his campaign.
He says of his opponents: “Their only obvious claim to be elected is that they are not Martin Mears.” Meanwhile, they claim he simply wants to recapture the public attention he received as president.
The Mears-Keating-Savage ticket say they do not deal in “uplifting phrases” but their election manifesto, like that of their opponents, is short on details to flesh out its proposals.
The Law Society should:
launch a full and independent investigation into the performance and monopoly of the Solicitors Indemnity Fund.
create permanent senior staff groupings to concentrate exclusively on Legal Aid and conveyancing.
mount a full review of the Law Society Gazette to ensure that the in-house magazine reflects the views of all the profession.
give active and immediate support for solicitors property centre schemes.
introduce a new practice rule requiring firms to set out in staff employment contracts the circumstances in which they would be held personally responsible for personal negligence claims.
WHETHER or not the label is the kiss of death remains to be seen, but as the current vice-president, Phillip Sycamore is the continuity candidate in this year's elections.
He is, however, at pains to insist he is not the “establishment” candidate. As evidence of this, he can point to the fact that in March this year he approached Martin Mears' former vice-president Robert Sayer and convinced him to join deputy-vice president Michael Mathews as a running mate.
Sycamore said that he asked Sayer to join him because he genuinely admired his rigorous approach to examining and exposing Law Society blunders. Yet by bringing Sayer on board, Sycamore also further isolated Martin Mears. Sayer has proved an asset to the team – his energy has been fuelled by a furious reaction to Mears' decision to stand again this year.
One of Sycamore's major policy planks is a new audit committee, to be made up by a majority from outside the Law Society council, which will monitor the cost of projects.
Under the banner “United we stand”, the trio's manifesto is short on detail, and in a direct dig at Mears, it says: “Do not look for us for witty jibes or empty promises.”
Sycamore says he wants to build a Law Society that will be a benefit and not a burden to solicitors. “We aim to achieve real change by delivering progress, not politics,” he says.
The Law Society should:
use external expertise to identify cost-effective ways of operating, with a new audit committee assisted by a majority of non-council members.
direct expenditure into areas which are of real benefit to the profession, with a new director of membership services helping with this.
provide sound commercial advice about improving income and profitability.
ensure that the review of the Solicitors Indemnity Fund addresses the fact that conscientious solicitors are subsidising “the slap-dash few”.
Aim to redouble pressure on countries that impose restrictive regimes on international firms.