Gateley trainee Olivia Lewis talks to Law Society Council member for Leeds Nick Emmerson on efforts to modernise the professional association
What is the Law Society Council?
The Law Society Council is the governing body of the Law Society of England and Wales. The council is currently made up of 100 volunteer solicitors of whom 61 represent geographic areas that are open to election on a four-year cycle. The balance represents special interest groups covering practise areas and demographic groups and are appointed.
The council agrees the strategic direction of the society’s work, including the annual business plan and budget, changes to the society’s policy and rules, and is the focus of the society’s efforts to modernise itself.
What is your role within the Law Society Council?
I am the elected member for the Leeds geographic area and have held this role since July 2015. The council currently meets six times a year and my role is to represent and provide a voice for the profession in Leeds and its individual solicitors and firms. I work closely with the Leeds Law Society in this regard.
Why did you want to be on the Law Society Council?
The inner workings of the Law Society appeared to be a long way from my day-to-day practice and I regularly tossed the Law Society Gazette in the bin without opening it. When an opportunity arose to represent Leeds on the council, I decided to put myself forward for election. I felt it important that our professional body should modernise and be able to properly represent a changing profession, its individual solicitors and firms, and the increasingly overlooked Leeds legal market.
You have been a Law Society Council member for two and a half years. What has the council been up to during that time?
The council first agreed a new strategy in 2015 that focused on representing, promoting and supporting all 136,000 solicitors, whether working in a high street practice, a commercial regional or city firm, an alternative business structure, or in-house for a private, public or charitable organisation.
This has evolved into an ongoing piece of work into how the membership offering of the Law Society can be made relevant and attractive to each individual member and his/her firm. The society is rightly asking itself whether members and firms would still join the society if it were a voluntary membership organisation. This self-assessment is long overdue and I am confident that some good work will come out of it.
The council also decided that it was the right time to review the way the society is governed. An assessment on the functioning of the council in 2016 by then-members highlighted that it was “moribund”, “ineffective” and “needs to change”.
The council set the society’s new objective to create a simplified governance and management structure. Some reform decisions have already been made, in particular the introduction of a main board. The main board will be the primary management body and will include non-council solicitors and lay directors, as well as the executive team and council members elected by the council.
This main board will be up and running in February and the review is already moving into its next phase, with consideration of the modernisation of the council itself.
What will happen to the Law Society Council?
There is a clear desire for a more focused role for the council and this is currently being debated. However, with the main board doing much of the heavy lifting, it is likely that the council will have a clearer role that includes horizon scanning, defining strategy and determining policy. This should mean that the council meets less often and might be reduced in size. Already, the number of times the council meets has been reduced to six and is likely to reduce further.
The council will also meet outside of London more and it is going to Manchester in March. It is also recognised that the council needs to be more representative of the profession as 31% of its current members are 35 years + PQE (against 7% of the profession) and 7% are in-house (against 18% of the profession).
Do you hear much from solicitors in Leeds?
I actually hear very little from anyone, which is a shame. I am exposed to the different work being done by the society, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and its staff, and, having worked hard to establish myself in the council, I am well placed to deal with issues raised or feedback received from individual solicitors or firms in Leeds.
I circulate an electronic newsletter twice a year but I am not sure whether they survive the spam filters, given that I receive very few responses on the back of them. That said, they might be getting deleted without being read, much like the Law Society Gazette ending up the bin!
This article originally appeared in issue 150 of Leeds & Yorkshire Lawyer