President of the Law Society, Tony Girling, has supported calls for radical reform of the society's financial and management structures following a damning report on its Regis computer project.
An interim report by a Law Society inquiry into the project has found that inadequate financial controls and poor project management have dogged Regis ever since it was set up in 1991.
The inquiry, instigated in February this year and carried out by a sub-committee of the society's council, commissioned two reports into the Regis project, from IT consultants DBI Associates and management consultants Arthur Andersen.
The inquiry's frank report endorses Arthur Andersen's recommendations that the entire Law Society budgeting system needs to be overhauled.
Implicit in a raft of recommendations to tighten up the Law Society's finances is the conclusion that financial problems like those surrounding Regis are endemic throughout the society.
The inquiry found that at no point during the Regis project did staff breach the society's financial guidelines, despite the massive overspend.
Its recommendations include the creation of a new IT committee and a project office to control all major projects.
Regis was set up to computerise the society's regulatory information systems, including the issue of practising certificates. Its original cost was estimated at £2.5m – but the finished programme could cost up to £10 million. The project is also expected to take more than three years longer than anticipated to complete.
Girling said Regis had been characterised by “an almost wilful over-optimism and a lack of candour”, poor management and lack of communication. He pledged to reform the Law Society's budgeting and management structure and promised nothing like Regis would happen again.
The Law Society's finance committee and full council will consider detailed recommendations for the reform of the society's finances in the New Year.
Yet, despite all Regis' problems, the independent consultants concluded the project could eventually meet its objectives. Regis 4, which will computerise the complaints system for the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors, is due to be implemented in 1998.
But Robert Sayer, a member of the inquiry team and Law Society deputy treasurer, said it was almost inevitable that Regis 4 would go over budget.
He added: “I'm delighted to hear Girling's response but am terribly sceptical about whether the deeds will match the words. I would like to see an independent review of all Law Society spending and budgeting.”
He believed the main lesson to be learned from Regis was “the unfortunate way in which the problems were not communicated to any office holders or council members”.
“Regis is just a typical example of a much wider malaise in the Law Society,” he said.
See leader, page 15.