As a new team arrives at beleaguered Chancery Lane, Legal Cheek sets out the issues solicitors’ profession leaders should be addressing for the benefit of law students and young lawyers
It’s all change at the Law Society. The 190-year-old institution that now acts as a quasi-trade union for solicitors announced last week the appointment of a new chief executive, Catherine Dixon, a former Eversheds lawyer who went on to become the top in-house litigator at the NHS.
Her replacement of the controversial Des Hudson coincided with the annual changing of the titular head of the organisation — the president’s gong passed to Andrew Caplen, a consultant at a Hampshire high street practice.
Congratulations to them both, obviously, but not to put too fine a point on it — when they are not jetting about the world on expenses, what can and should these two high fliers being doing for law students and younger lawyers?
That’s the question we put to Sophia Dirir (pictured), a senior lawyer at charity Action for Children and chairwoman of the society’s Junior Lawyers Division.
She flagged five core issues for the new big cheeses at Chancery Lane:
Focus on social mobility, which would be assisted by a Law Society recommended minimum salary for trainees;
Review access to the profession, including an assessment of the necessity of continuing with the legal practice course in its current form;
Increased transparency, consultation and communication with the membership;
Better engagement of the membership.
Fierce campaigning on behalf of the profession, particularly against legal aid cuts.
Dirir told Legal Cheek that getting behind her division’s campaign for a recommended minimum salary for trainees — following the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s decision earlier this year to kill the mandatory minimum wage — should be the organisation’s priority for young lawyers. She pointed out that Chancery Lane had introduced the London living wage for its own staff and that backing the recommended minimum wage was the least it could do for trainees.
Legal Cheek has also produced its suggestions for the new Law Society hierarchy:
Cast an eye over the luxury early 18th century Georgian townhouse — complete with wine cellar — that is currently the exclusive London residence of the society’s president. The splendid building (pictured below), which is located on 60 Carey Street just off Chancery Lane, could be converted into a dormitory for provincial law students who have bagged summer vac scheme or other work placements at London firms. Accommodation rates could be set at affordable hostel levels.
Or flog the building — it will be worth millions in the current central London property boom with Russian oligarchs tripping over Gulf sheiks to make an offer. The proceeds could be invested in the creation of a new law school, designed on the original principles of the College of Law, offering reasonably-priced degree and Legal Practice Courses (LPC).
Shift the bedraggled Law Society staff out of its main Chancery Lane HQ — none of them has a good thing to say about the Dickensian offices — into modern open planned space. And convert the building into a members’ club complete with gym, swimming pool, reasonably priced overnight accommodation … and a bar/nightclub.
A recent internal society staff memo provides evidence that management has finally recognised that the only way to carry on working at the society is to be pissed.
In the latest marketing wheeze involving London’s best kept drinking secret, society managers plead with staff to “head down to 113 Bar where, during August, staff get 25 per cent off wine and beer, and 50 per cent off spirits”. A further enticement involves ordering two large platters of bar snacks. Those who do will “get two bottles of wine free”.
It’ll be a wonder if any Law Society staff can even spell “minimum salary” or say “access to the profession” after that sort of session.