President's Letter (July 2011)
By the time you read this letter, Michael Imperato will be your new President.
I wish Michael, Anne-Louise Ferguson and Simon Cradick (the new Senior and Junior Vice-Presidents) every good fortune as they take on the Society to meet the next challenges that lie ahead.
I have enjoyed my year of office – it has been an interesting and challenging year as the legal services landscape continues to undergo a radical transformation.
We are in the midst of sweeping changes, both to the legal aid system and to the broader funding of civil litigation. Once in place, the effects of a number of the proposed changes will be all but impossible to reverse.
As entire areas of law are removed from the scope of public funding, large numbers of people will simply be able to pursue their legal rights unless they choose to go to court alone and unrepresented.
This Government should remember that access to justice is not a privilege to the few – it is a fundamental right that all citizens are entitled to.
The profession is at a crossroads and facing some of the most difficult challenges for generations. None are greater than the challenges facing small firms. The pressure exerted by financial institutions, whether professional indemnity insurers, lenders or before the event insurers, means that the concept of a level playing field is in serious doubt, if those who offer a good service to clients at a reasonable cost cannot access those clients, or are prevented from acting for them.
To compete on a level playing field, firms should not have to worry about their arbitrary removal from lenders’ panels or unfair discrimination in respect of their professional indemnity insurance premiums.
The Co-op and the AA and others may well succeed in attracting certain areas of work that have traditionally been the bread and butter of solicitors’ practices. In my view, it is unlikely that they will try, let alone succeed, in taking away work that they know they cannot compete with solicitors’ practices. The Legal Services Act will not bring about the end of small practices. Solicitors have always been resilient and innovative and we too can take advantage of the new regulations and opportunities, to ensure that not only solicitors survive but thrive.
I would like to thank my colleagues on Council for their support during the year – without that support, I would not have been able to undertake my role.
It has been an honour and a great privilege to serve as the President to the Incorporated Law Society of Cardiff & District in its anniversary year.