Mears takes up rights of audience gauntlet

A CAMPAIGN to ease the path to extended rights of audience for City firms has emerged as one of Law Society president Martin Mears' new big ideas.

The president has agreed to take up City lawyers' complaints that the qualification requirements for obtaining higher court rights of audience established by the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct (Aclec) are too rigid.

Firms are particularly angry at the amount of advocacy experience solicitors are required to clock up for extended civil rights – as many as 50 hearings in courts where they can already be advocates – before they can take the Law Society advocacy conversion course and exam.

Former Bar Council chair Peter Goldsmith QC said it was far too early for a change in the qualification rules, but City firms argue Aclec has devised a back-to-front system.

Its says solicitors should be trained first and then get their experience, the system that currently operates at the Bar.

“I am extremely sympathetic to what the City is saying and this is high up on my agenda,” Mears told The Lawyer. “Its view is that we should make an application for a level playing field with the Bar and if this is refused we should take out a judicial review.”

Mears is also considering a TV advertising campaign to boost the image of solicitors.

The issue has been mooted before. In 1991 the Law Society abandoned plans for a campaign after a survey found only limited support for the idea.

See investigation, page five.