Mears attacks Law Soc's use of barristers for advice

The Law Society Council will this week vote on a proposal by former president Martin Mears to go to City solicitors rather than barristers when seeking legal opinion on policy options.

During Mears' term of office many of his policy initiatives – setting a minimum conveyancing fee, restricting entry to the profession – were scuppered by unfavourable opinions from counsel. Last July a barrister's opinion prevented the then treasurer Mike Howells from remitting part of the practising certificate fees to members. Mears said he thought this opinion was wrong.

He said: “It strikes me as extremely bizarre that the solicitors' own professional body should go to barristers when taking outside advice. This is something I have raised many times in private and nothing has been done. This is the only way left to me.”

In another controversial proposal, the council is being asked to approve the hiring of 35 temporary and 26 permanent staff. Mears said he would be opposing this.

“This is something Robert Sayer [the former vice-president] and I were battling against all during our term of office. The secretary general Jane Betts, when she was interviewed for the post, was given a specific brief. One of her main jobs was to reduce staff numbers. Now there are these additional people.”

Law Society director of communications, Barbara Cahalane, said: “In the past three years alone membership has increased by 20,000 and the demand for services from members has increased. These new appointments are linked to a new system of prioritising areas of work in the society.”

From next year, she said, the society would move from a “bottom-up” approach, whereby departments determined what they needed and the council fixed fees accordingly, to a “top-down” system, whereby the council fixes the level of fees and staff budgets have to fit within that level.