President's Letter (December 2011)
As I write this column the Cardiff & District Law Society are finalising a programme of educational forums for members next year. The intention is to have an hour long early evening session in the last week of each month. To reflect membership a wide range of topics will be covered. It will be an opportunity to learn some law, pick up a CPD point and importantly to discuss issues with other members attending. It should a very practical and relevant approach to legal education. We are going to be assisted by our new Barrister Associate members and I am very grateful for how they have enthusiastically
embraced the idea. I would urge all members to keep an eye out for the forums and, where relevant, to attend. If you support your local Law Society we can go on to bigger and better initiatives in the future.
Meanwhile, the Life of the Cardiff & District Law Society President is at times a social whirl. At the beginning of October I attended the opening of the Legal Year Ceremony in Westminster. This immediately led to the dilemma as to how to find a solicitor’s gown. When I first started in the law many years ago such gowns were a standard piece of office equipment. No litigation department, not even in the smallest practice, would fail to have a solicitor’s gown to hand. It would usually be on hanging on the back of the door of the senior litigation partner’s office. It would never have seen a washing machine or dry cleaner. It would be coffee stained and smell of cigarettes. Today the gown has gone the way of the typewriter ribbon; it’s no longer an essential part of the modern legal office. I looked into hiring one but the terms of the country’s only solicitor-gown-hiring company seemed the most unequal of unequal bargains. In the end I borrowed a barrister’s gown (many thanks Simon of Civitas) and hoped I would not be rumbled. As it was, only one person drew attention to the fact that I had a purse on the back of my gown, indicative of the barrister’s gown and absent from the solicitor’s gown.
The ceremony itself was a colourful pageant with the various levels of judges resplendent in their Sunday best robes and wigs. The solicitors of course were right at the back of the procession. In Westminster Abbey I was fortunate to have a near front row seat. It felt a bit much to be asked to pray for the Lord Chancellor! I am sure many practitioners, especially those relying on Legal Aid, have resorted to prayer these days, bit not for the health of those driving through reforms. As Kenneth Clarke himself, in seventeenth century footwear rather than his legendary hush puppies, read the lesson I wondered on how his reforms will impact on the profession. Earlier, at Chancery Lane, the President of the Law Society spoke well of standing up to the government and fighting for justice. He spoke particularly of the need to ensure the profession is as open as possible to people form all backgrounds. With the coalition government making University education in England an expense only members of the old Etonian set can ignore, how can people afford to qualify as solicitors? One proposal he trailed is to allow non-graduates to qualify through external exams and a lengthened period in training. The Law Society President, John Wotton, is a City lawyer by background but I was genuinely impressed at his concern for the wider profession beyond the Square Mile and for its future.
A few weeks later I attended the annual dinner of the South Wales Chartered Accountants at Cardiff City Hall. The thought of dining with 400 accountants may, to some, appear to be a Kafka-esque nightmare. However, the main speaker was probably about as far removed for the world of accountancy as one can get – Sir Ranulph Fiennes. When he rose to speak I expected a few jokes about frost bite and various bits of the anatomy dropping dropping off. However, Sir Ranulph had other ideas and an hour and a half later I felt I had circumnavigated the globe with him. It was actually a fascinating talk taking us through most of his life and extraordinary times. He is not the most politically correct person but is a true one off. The following night I was due to go to the Bridgend Law Society dinner but it was cancelled due to lack of numbers. This was a great shame and it illustrates how local societies are struggling. If, as a profession, we cannot stick together and support each other then there is little hope for us. Rather than struggling through adversity such as Ranulph Fiennes would do, we will go the way of the solicitor’s gown, consigned to that great dry cleaners in the sky.