Michael Mathews wants to see a fairer legal system for all. In the forthcoming Law Society elections, he and running mate Robert Sayer are seeking a mandate for modernisation. Michael Mathews is vice-president of the Law Society and a partner at Clifford Chance. I want to see a Law Society which meets the needs of all its members, however diverse those needs may be. For the past two years I have been part of a team which has been seeking to bring this about, while at the same time dealing with all of the issues of the day. Last year we invited Robert Sayer to join our team because we felt that progress would best be achieved by having a wide range of the profession's views represented. That was true then and it remains true now.
There are vital issues to be dealt with. We must continue a vigorous campaign to ensure that legal aid remains available to the disadvantaged and the dispossessed, and that legally aided clients can continue to have access to a wide range of firms. Whether the ultimate decision on indemnity insurance is to move to a market-based system or to retain some form of "mutual" cover, we must ensure that we end up with a system which is as fair as possible to all. We must find the best way forward on the subject of multidisciplinary partnerships, while ensuring that a solicitor's ability to give truly independent advice is maintained. There are – and will be – a host of other issues.
These matters must all be taken forward vigorously and effectively, but if we are to achieve the Law Society I would like to see, something else needs to be done. Robert Sayer and I are asking for a mandate to lead the council in a review of all the society's policies, so that they can be modernised to reflect the world in which we now practise and will help solicitors not only survive but flourish. Such a review must take full account of the views of the profession and must ensure that the policies have the support of the majority of the profession while also ensuring that the interests of minorities are protected.
Such a review will involve consideration of the nature of the profession.
Are law firms professional firms or are they merely businesses? Can they be both? Do our regulations give us a competitive marketing advantage by making us seem more safe and reliable to deal with than others, or do they merely handicap us in our competitive battle with others without conferring any counter-balancing benefit? Should we seek further deregulation to help us compete, or should we campaign for the regulation of our competitors? Do we have the balance between the society's regulatory functions and its representative activities right? How should we allocate the society's resources to the best advantage?
These are all important questions, and achieving a proper synthesis of the views of the various elements of the profession and coming up with policies which are realistic and achievable will not be easy, but it must be done. Only in this way can the society fully regain the respect of the profession. If the society is not sufficiently respected by the profession, as sadly it is not today, it cannot carry the full clout with the media, the public and, most importantly, the Government, that the profession's representative body should carry.
It is important that this review should be taken forward so that we can build a firm foundation on which to face the future. I should, however, make it clear that we are not proposing that the other issues should take second place while the review is carried out. Of course, we must – and will – continue to deal with current issues. The campaign on legal aid, the other important issues mentioned above and further issues which may emerge, will be carried forward, and appropriate decisions made whenever necessary, in parallel with the proposed review.
Two years ago I was elected deputy vice-president and that year I was also treasurer of the society. Last year I was elected vice-president. During this time not only have I been deeply involved in what the society has been doing, but I have also been meeting solicitors of all kinds and hearing their concerns. I have been a partner in a firm for more than 27 years. That has been a time of ever-increasing change and my experience has equipped me to deal with a wide range of matters.
This election is important. If you elect Robert Sayer and me we will do all that we can to make the Law Society a respected organisation of which we can all be proud. Please give us a chance to try.