Time for performance-related payback

Seven years ago I was elected to the Law Society's Council. I joined, because like so many of my fellow practitioners, I had become disillusioned with the Law Society and wanted to do something about it. At the time, I was a high-street practitioner and I still am.

Why am I now seeking election to the office of deputy vice-president?

Martin Mears and David Keating, my election associates, are men whom I respect for their different qualities. It was Mears who broke the mould of Law Society politics when he was the first president to be elected in 150 years on the basis of a manifesto. Keating is a very experienced council member who chairs the international committee.

Any reservations which I might have had about running for office on the Mears/Keating slate, have been dispelled in the last few days. I have received innumerable encouraging letters and telephone calls, mainly from solicitors whose anger over the Solicitors Indemnity Fund debacle knows no bounds.

Every inquirer finds it simply incredible that the SIF should have underestimated its liabilities by nearly half a billion pounds.

I have been asked time and time again if this figure is correct. Well it most certainly is, and the reality is that it will require premium increases of 80 per cent for the average firm.

Even firms with the maximum no-claims discount will have to find the money to pay increases of 46 per cent.

At the last Law Society council meeting, I demanded to know how this situation had come about and who should be held responsible. In true Chancery Lane fashion, it seems that only one man is responsible for the SIF shortfall, and he is the former managing director who conveniently retired last year. Few solicitors are going to accept this obvious scapegoating.

Not since the Glanville Davies affair more than a decade ago has the profession been dealt so deadly a blow. The SIF fiasco, however, is far from an isolated example. In fact, the list is considerable.

There is, for instance, the ongoing saga of the Chancery Lane headquarters refurbishment. Here the overspend to date exceeds £3m. Then there was the Regis computer project with its overspend of £7m. The High Street Starter Kit write-off of £327,000 is petty cash in comparison – remember it was one of Tony Girling's "flagship" proposals in last year's elections.

Every practitioner will receive a copy of our election manifesto. Please spare some time to read it. If elected, we propose to establish permanent staff groupings to concentrate on legal aid and conveyancing. With more than 700 staff, it is extraordinary that such groupings do not exist already.

Then there is the important issue of negligence claims against assistant solicitors, a number of harrowing examples of which have been brought to my attention over the past few years. We are proposing a practice rule that will make it obligatory for firms to specify in contracts of employment the circumstances in which assistant solicitors will be held liable for negligence claims.

We also need to deliver a leaner Law Society. During the past year, staff numbers have increased by 9 per cent. Good housekeeping is not just the prerogative of those working at the coal face!

So where do we start? I have indicated a number of issues which have to be tackled immediately. The SIF problem is the major priority at this moment. And who is best qualified to solve it? Those who created it in the first place? I don't think so.

The present regime asks to be judged by its record. I hope it will be.