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I spent the weekend in Prague celebrating with colleagues the 20th Anniversary of the re-establishment of the independence of the Czech legal profession. Out of a small bar, of only 8804 members, over 500 members attended a one day conference dedicated to ethical issues – and ordinary members of the bar seem to have a real passion for this subject. I think that this must be down to their recent history. It is strange to think that most of the people at the conference could remember a time when the rule of law and democracy was absent from their lives. After all, this is a country that is only a two hour flight away from London. It was a salutary reminder of how the independence of the judiciary is fundamental to a functioning democratic society.
I doubt a conference dedicated to ethics would attract a similar proportion of solicitors in England and Wales. However, I do think there are now a number of practical and managerial issues that are important to all solicitors whatever their individual area of practice, including increased competition from non-qualified providers and the complete change in the regulatory system, and I therefore intend on reinstating our annual conference in the summer. This project will be led by the Membership Board and they are expanding the project board which is already organising the Presidents and Secretaries Day. I hope that you will all be supportive of this project and participate.
Returning to the Czech Bar celebrations, it certainly caused me to reflect on the freedoms and privileges we have enjoyed in this country and I hope it provides some comfort to you as you face yet another week facing the demands and pressures of the ordinary working week.
As the deadline for the renewal of PII draws closer I would like to remind colleagues about the PII helpline the Law Society is operating. If you would like any advice please call 020 7320 9545 from 09:00-17:00, Monday to Friday. We continue to have a webpage dedicated to PII information which you may also find helpful.
On Tuesday I attended the Legal Affairs and Policy Board meeting. Christina Blacklaws, the new Chair, oversaw a number of the significant discussions we had. We discussed a wide range of issues including:
- Access to Justice Review;
- Legal Aid, including the contract tender, support following the civil tender round and mental health legal aid tenders;
- the Society’s response to Lord Justice Jackson’s review of costs in civil litigation;
- Lenders and Panels;
- regulation of lobbyists;
- legal expenses insurance and third party capture;
- confidentiality and insolvency of Clients;
- and the ECJ judgment on the Akzo Nobel case.
As you will all know, promoting the excellent work that solicitors do is a key theme of my Presidency.
I attended the Membership Board meeting on Thursday. Among the matters considered were the results of the publicity campaign promoting the brand of solicitor.
I was delighted to see the positive results that our 2010 solicitor brand promotion campaign generated. The campaign ran for two months with a budget of £500,000. As a result of that we secured £1.2 million of media space. Our PR campaign delivered £1,044,518 worth of additional PR value – meaning that the total value of advertising and PR secured for the Law Society was £2,244,518. An exceptional result.
We drove 85,229 members of the public looking for legal advice to our website and our find a solicitor search engine, while we despatched 809,478 promotional ideas to firms who visited our ‘promote your practice’ webpage when the campaign was launched. All in all this is a great result for the Law Society and the profession as we seek to promote the value of solicitors to the public.
At the end of the campaign, questionnaires were sent to all the firms who had ordered our campaign materials. The results were overwhelmingly positive with 88 of 126 respondents reporting that the campaign was of practical value to their practice, 103 stating they thought the message was right and 114 saying the Law Society should run more campaigns like this.
We’ll be putting more information about this on the website and I’ll keep you updated.
The new Board chaired by David Taylor also had a brainstorming session to look at ideas to support the profession but also generate income. Those of you who have heard me speak in the last year will know that a recurring theme is the need to generate income so that we may continue and expand our representational work such as the court action on legal aid. However there is also a need to develop work aimed at supporting the profession; for example in relation to exit strategies for those firms who are in the unhappy position of finding themselves no longer financially viable or those who wish to retire and cannot find a successor practice and are finding closure complex and costly. Ideas were also generated following the Chair’s attendance at the outsourcing conference.
The Court of Justice of the EU’s judgement in the case of Akzo Nobel Chemicals Limited and Akcros Chemicals Limited v European Commission handed down on Tuesday means that, in EU competition law investigations, legal advice from an in-house lawyer is not privileged and not protected. EU investigators will be able to seize and access this advice, irrespective of the status of the lawyer’s advice in their national legal system.
We argued that in-house lawyers are the front line guarantor of compliance and that the Court should recognise how the role of the in-house lawyers has developed since this issue was last before the Court.
The role of in house lawyers is still a controversial issue on the continent but, over the course of time, EU policy makers may well come to appreciate the great value that such lawyers bring to both the public and private sectors. In-house lawyers are well placed to give expert advice to colleagues; they know their company and of course, good legal advice ensures that companies behave correctly and legally and I believe ethically.
Party conference season is upon us! As I write this I’m up in Liverpool at the Liberal Democrat Conference meeting with Liberal Democrat MPs, delegates and leading law practitioners. The Liberal Democrats are now a party of Government and this year it is more important than ever that we have a strong voice at the Conference. Decisions on spending cuts made by government will impact directly and indirectly on the profession.
Committee Meeting in the Goodwood Room at Thomas Eggar in Chichester.