Law Soc shoulders Regis blame

AT ONE stage during the installation of the Law Society's new computer system, the travel budget of its London-based technicians ran out.

This meant they were unable to travel to the society's Redditch office, where those using the troubled Regis computer system were based.

Instead, staff at Redditch had to make the arduous journey to London whenever they wanted to discuss the system, something they felt was “not acceptable”, according to the confidential report into Regis compiled by management consultancy DBI Associates.

This is just one example of the management failures and “broader culture” within the Law Society which the consultants blame for the system's embarrassing prob- lems earlier this year.

The report was commissioned by an inquiry set up by the then Law Society president Martin Mears, after phase three of Regis dramatically failed to cope with practising certificate renewals in 1995.

Installing the system has cost far more than planned. The total bill could reach £10 million, nearly five times the original estimate of £2.038 million, the report says.

This estimate was not only “extremely optimistic”, but also “not consistent with the society's strategic view on IT expenditure expressed in Succeeding in the '90s [a 1991 strategy paper], where a drastic increase in expenditure was forecast”.

Deadlines for completion of the project have also had to be revised several times. In October 1993, the Law Society envisaged that phase four of Regis, dealing with complaints handling, would be in place by 1 June 1995.

Now DBI estimates the earliest completion date to be the end of 1997 and says “the programme may well take until 1998”.

The consultants place the blame squarely on poor management. The report says: “We have a number of criticisms of the management of the project. These should not be taken to imply lack of commitment and effort on the part of the individuals.

“Some of them arise from the broader culture and practice in the society, some from lack of experience in dealing with a project of this magnitude.”

Specifically the DBI report concludes:

the Law Society's management board and finance committee should have prepared a business plan at the outset;

budgeting should have been for the life of the Regis project, not on an annual basis, which meant that there was no proper control of the total cost;

there was, and still is, no effective oversight of projects at management board or finance committee level; and

the project should have had a special project manager to give it “full-time management at least one grade higher than it received”. (The Office for the Supervision of Solicitors has now appointed an outsider, Bill Irvine from AP Consultants, as project manager for Regis 4.)

Further problems were caused by the Law Society having “split sites” – in London, Leamington Spa and Redditch – which meant staff developing the Regis project were in London while its key users were in the Midlands.

The Law Society's Redditch office “lost its project manager in 1995 in large part because he did not wish to travel from his home in Kent to Redditch any longer”. At one stage the society “ran out of travel budget and users were asked to travel to London for meetings, which they felt was not acceptable”.

The report is not all bad news, however. It concludes: “We do not expect the future running of the system to be entirely trouble-free, but we have found nothing in our examination of the system to cause us to expect severe problems.”