'I've worked with doctors. I'm used to dealing with egos'

When the appointment of Jane Betts as secretary general of the Law Society was announced, you could almost hear the muttered chorus of “Who is she?” rising from the corridors of Chancery Lane.

From the point of view of the Old Guard, and probably the several internal candidates who had been after the job, she had several things against her. She was a woman, she was not a lawyer, and she had been secretary of an obscure medical organisation, the British Postgraduate Medical Federation, that no lawyer had ever heard of.

Yet on her very first day in office she managed to cause a stir which is still reverberating around the Law Society.

“I've worked with doctors and dentists,” she breezed, “I'm used to dealing with egos.”

As she disappeared off to Florida for the American Bar Association conference, she left behind an announcement that the five-person management board was being replaced by a 10-strong “management team”.

Jane Hern, director of management and planning, was left , at least temporarily, without a job. Meanwhile, four senior executives are rumoured to be fighting for the newly-created post of director of policy.

One Chancery Lane insider said: “The back-stabbing has begun.”

But Betts believes the venerable Law Society needs a shake-up, a dose of professional business management.

“Martin Mears was elected because the Law Society was perceived to be out of touch with the profession,” she said. “It was perceived to be complacent and arrogant.”

“I have inherited an organisation from John Hayes that has been run like a family,” she added. And as the society expanded from 250 to some 750 employees, lots of individual “families” had developed. “John Hayes' management board was comprised of the heads of various directorates: legal practice, membership services, standards and development, the SCB.”

Each directorate became a fiefdom, she said, acting on its own, in competition with the others. To counteract this she is bringing in a director of finance and a director of human resources. “I don't want people to defend their own patch,” she said.

Betts was interviewed and selected by a committee headed by former Law Society president Charles Elly. She said: “One of the things that came across in the interview was a feeling that they were saying 'Give the Law Society back to us'.”

How can the tug of war between the council and the executive be resolved with people like Martin Mears still on the council, ready to snipe? She steers clear of specifics, saying only: “The Law Society Council needs to decide what it wants to do and what it wants to stop doing. My job is to manage how we get there.”

Despite the veneer of jargon, Betts gives off a genuine air of excitement at the task before her. She is the 'new broom', with a new president, and she is raring to go.

“Tony Girling's favourite phrase is 'hit the deck running',” she explained. “We both want to get on with things. The challenge will be how to get on with things in a steady and positive way.”

Long may her enthusiasm last.