President's Letter (August 2011)
It’s a great honour but also a little nerve-racking to be writing my first President’s letter. I would like to take the opportunity of thanking my predecessor Peter Davies. I hope I am able to fill his ample shoes and those of my other distinguished predecessors.
The legal profession faces a particularly challenging year ahead and it is vital that we ensure that the Cardiff and District Law Society (CDLS) is fit for the challenge and fit for purpose. CDLS has made one of the biggest changes in its 126 year history by widening the membership to include non solicitors. We have introduced Associate Membership which is designed to encompass a wider range of those with an interest in the legal profession. This is following a lead already set by a number of local Law Societies. I am pleased that we have had expressions of interests in joining from Barristers Chambers in Cardiff, and, indeed, one Chambers has already joined. I welcome on board more Barristers and Legal Executives who would like to benefit from membership of CDLS or wish to help shape its future. Widening the membership of the society met with words of caution from some members but the overwhelming feeling was that the days of stark distinctions between different professionals in the legal world has long gone. We all have an interest in making the practice of law in Wales work and better to face the challenge with a united front. Membership of CDLS brings with it a number of benefits; there are discounts on CPD courses, discounts on recruitment from Premier Legal Recruitment and discounts from a wide range of local providers; for instance, did you know that membership can allow you a discount on theatre tickets! As a society we should be able to do a lot more in respect of communicating with our members. I hope to be able to set up a system of more regular email contact back and for between the society and its members. We need to utilise our website which is potentially a very effective tool both for the swapping of information between members, but also the marketing of our services and expertise to the public and other professions.
It’s important that we raise the profile of the Local Law Society and I was pleased to appear on both BBC Wales TV and radio in early July speaking out against the proposed cuts in legal aid. I was surprised that the story was given so much prominence by BBC Wales and I found the journalist to be sympathetic to the cause. Too often cuts in legal aid are portrayed as whinging lawyers trying to protect their own self-interest. However, there is now, I believe, a real realisation that such issues are far more about access to justice for vulnerable groups. With many lawyers now no longer undertaking legal aid, we cannot be accused of total self-interest but it is down to us to highlight the issue and lead the fight. I am genuinely concerned that the proposed legal aid cuts and abolition of the Legal Services Commission will be a huge detriment to the vulnerable in society.
If that were not enough litigators face the implementation in part – and some would say the worst part – of the Jackson reforms. Again our critics will say we oppose these on the grounds of self interest but the reality is that the unrivalled access to justice provided by the relatively straightforward “no win no fee” regime at present will be undermined. In personal injury terms, victims with anything other than the most straightforward of claims may find it difficult to obtain funding or, if they do, may find their damages dramatically reduced. Meanwhile something which affects the whole of the profession is the advent of alternative business structures and its “big bang” in October this year. At our meetings at CDSL since I took over the presidency in May we have put a high priority on preparing for ABS. The truth is, nobody really knows what impact it is going to have on the profession. There are likely to be winners and losers. What is important is that people do not ignore it. This is going to be a recurrent theme in my presidency and I am afraid I will return to it again and again in future presidential letters.
I expect the first article that most people turn to in the legal news is the stream of consciousness that is the regular column of Simon Mumford. Therefore, you will have already read of Simon’s heroics in leading his beloved football team, Cardiff Academicals, in the Czech Republic in June of this year. Although many people will find this hard to believe, most of Simon’s remarks do have some elements of truth to them and he did indeed play against a Sparta Prague Veterans Team, packed with former Czech international footballers at the second largest Sports Stadium in the world (a prize – Mr Editor - for the first person to write in, naming the largest current sports stadium in the world). Simon will also report that the touring party was particularly well represented by the legal profession including myself and that we paid homage to the Patron Saint of Lawyers whose statue adorns the picturesque Charles Bridge in the centre of Old Prague. St Ivo was a 13th Century lawyer from Brittany. He was known as the “advocate of the poor”. No doubt the Government are banking on a return of St Ivo to plug the gaps they are intent on creating!