Short reflection on the election

The election is over for another year and, during the lazy days of summer, we can dream of more interesting events. But an inquest into what happened in July is of some interest. Three aspects in particular fascinate me.

The first is that, despite the major problems facing the profession, less than 50 per cent of the profession bothered to vote. This year there was not the excuse that the voting papers were hidden away in the Gazette. They were individually sent to every solicitor.

And so it does seem rather extraordinary that a profession which faces economic pressures unparalleled in its long history, with legal aid reforms about to change work patterns and multi-disciplinary partnerships inevitable, some felt it made not a jot of difference who was in charge of the Law Society.

Who is to say they are not right? The president of the Law Society has no real sanctions to bring against government proposals. And whatever influence he may have had has probably now been dissipated by the behaviour of the society over the past 12 months. Nevertheless, one would have felt there would be more than a passing interest as to whether that loss of influence is indefinite or whether efforts can and should be made to reverse it.

The second fascination is with the democratic process. Democracy, we are told, is a wonderful thing. Of course it is. No one would gainsay that in 1996.

But whether it is the right way of choosing the head of a learned profession is another matter altogether.

Previously, the person was chosen after careful evaluation by a council of 75 elected members. It did so having watched the candidate over many years and after evaluating integrity and performance. Experience also played a part in the selection.

How the profession at large is expected to exercise this informed selection defeats me. Democracy to elect our council members is a good thing. But should that be carried forward to the president? I suspect not. It would be rather like the electorate electing not only its members of Parliament but also the Prime Minister.

The third fascination of the election is that of the promise by the retiring incumbent to stand again next year. In fact, his words were: "I expect to president again in 1997."

False modesty has never been a problem suffered by Martin Mears and, plainly, is not likely to be a problem in the foreseeable future either.

However, one good thing about the new incumbent is that he is not proposing to stand next year and, therefore, cannot have too much regard to playing to the populist vote.

He can give the clear and firm leadership the society now needs without feeling he has to win an election at the end of it.

I find that particularly comforting at a time when hard decisions have to be made, probably in the face of a good deal of disapproval by the profession as a whole. Hard decisions are never popular, least of all with publicity seeking would-be presidents.