The President’s Inaugural Column

Robert Heslett, new president of the Law Society

Robert Heslett, new president of the Law Society

What happens when leadership says nothing to you about your life?

Last week’s Law Society Gazette features the first article from the new Law Society President, Robert Heslett.  If this is designed to be his rallying call at the start of his 1 year term in office then it is disappointing. 

It looks back and then inwards but never, that I can discern, out or forwards.

The theme of the new presidential year is…

“The Rule of Law” 

What is the rule of law?

“The rule of law is the touchstone of the solicitors’ profession. It is the bedrock and the foundation upon which a solicitor’s work stands. It is therefore right to return to the rule of law to dictate our guiding principles in a time of economic, regulatory, social and political change.”

I have just been speaking to a colleague in another firm and asked him about the rule of law.  Was that why he does what he does?  No it was not, nor is it for me.  How about you?

As I was on the bus into work this morning, I was trying once again to read Wikinomics and was struck by this;

“The net-generation is re-negotiating the definitions of copyright and intellectual property… They won’t let outmoded intellectual property laws stand in their way.” pg 52

I mused on how the net-generation is not so much negotiating change, as forcing change.  Set alongside this, our President’s suggestion that we should “Return to the  rule of law” feels out of time and place, harkening back to a time when power was vested in the affairs of lawyers and politicians.  We are a long way from that now, aren’t we? 

Some will ask if I am suggesting that we abandon law and permit anarchy.  That is clearly not my case and would be nothing more than an attempt to reduce the debate into polarised positions.  We need to be more responsive and help shape the newly democratised conversation.

Robert Heslett rightly identifies that there are challenges ahead for the profession, there are many, but then goes on to concentrate introspectively upon the question of profession regulation and the relationship “Between the Society and the LSB, the SRA and the OLC” 

The “protracted period of consultation” within our profession may well provide, ironically, a relatively safe haven for many to dwell within, constructed as it is with the familiar disciplines of negotiating, drafting and implementing the “Details and structures.”

My big concern is that as we concentrate on this introspection, that our leaders take our eye of the social economic changes that are taking place in the world, both online and realtime.

Nowhere does our President refer to technology, communication or commoditisation of legal services.

It may be correct that “The rule of law is also emblematic of the relationship between the citizen and the state.” although that feels rather esoteric to me.

It may be flattering to perceive that “For centuries, solicitors have been the principle guarantors of this relationship and of the efficient conduct of democracy.” although I am even less convinced of this assertion than the previous one. 

Either way I fear it is dangerously naive to believe that what might have been the case (if it ever was) will always be.

We need a different dialogue within the profession – this conservative opening gambit says nothing to me about my work or my clients’ concerns- and need any effective dialogue with the marketplace and our end users.

1 Comment

Filed under Law, Lawyers and Social Media, The Changing Legal Market

One response to “The President’s Inaugural Column

  1. Neil – I read the column this morning and shared many of your thoughts.

    I don’t disagree that the rule of law is an important foundation of the profession (if you follow it back far enough then most of what we do for our clients is based on this – otherwise contract law, litigation, IP would have no real purpose or value).

    The difficulty is that legal practices are also businesses and this type of grandiose statement says nothing to me about how we are to adapt to the new markets and competitors which are beginning (and will continue) to emerge.

    There seems to be an assumption that the rule of law is so fundamental that lawyers must exist and continue to practice in something like their current form – and that this will somehow override the other laws which apply (including those of a free market economy!).

    My personal view is that in a very short period of time (5 years… 10 years?) history will unfortunately prove this attitude to have been totally wrong and disastrously short sighted – and it worries me that the leadership of the profession seem to be clinging to it.

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