Catherine Dixon resigns from CEO at The Law Society

Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said: “It is my firm belief that the Law Society will not be perceived by its members and other key stakeholders to have changed and to be representative of solicitors and the diverse solicitor profession, without changing the way it is governed.

“The Law Society’s governance is costly (over £2m per annum not taking into account my time or my executive’s and staff time in reporting), bureaucratic and does not reflect how successful modern organisations, including membership organisations, operate.”

She said she found it “impossible” to navigate the complex and often overlapping boards and committees in a way which best served the organisation and its members.

“It had taken council nearly a year to get to a point where a decision could have been made to start making changes to governance.

“As any implementation of a main board will not now start until further work has been undertaken on council seats, as optimistic as I am, I fail to see how this work can be completed in a timely way – particularly taking into account the external pressures on the Law Society to demonstrate effective and modern governance arrangements, which should not be underestimated.

“I truly believe that the longer-term future of the organisation rests with it having in place an effective governance structure. It is competing against hostile organisations which already have agile and effective governance structures in place.

“If the external environment was not so hostile, the Law Society could take its time to review its governance and make any changes at its own pace. However, the organisation does not have this luxury.

“I want to be part of an organisation with a board and council which works effectively and collaboratively with its executive. I want to take responsibility as CEO and be accountable. For me this means being part of a board which has the expertise, experience and skill sets to oversee a complex multi-million pound organisation.

“I believe that boards should make collective decisions which their senior executive are party to and which the board stands behind and is accountable for. I don’t see the role of a CEO as merely attending and reporting to a board. If this is how council sees the role of the Law Society CEO, (which the agreed main board structure suggests it does), then unfortunately this is not me.

“It is for this reason and because of the failure to agree to progress with the creation of a main board that I have decided to leave the Law Society. I cannot in good conscience continue to act as the CEO of an organisation when I do not support the decision by council not to rigorously pursue governance reform in what I believe is in the best interests of the profession and the organisation.

“Therefore, just like any accountable board member who does not support a critical decision of that board, I feel that I am left with no option but to resign.”

Law Society president Robert Bourns said: “We are extremely grateful to Catherine for her tireless and effective work for the Law Society as chief executive. Her achievements in the last two years are numerous and include delivering a new strategy and three year plan, building our influence and thought leadership and promoting member focus at the heart of our work.

“I note Catherine’s comments on the pace of the governance review. It is important that we press on with changes in order to take the organisation and the profession forward. I aim to use the rest of my presidency to help drive the next stage of the review and propose further changes.

“We will be announcing plans for the recruitment of a new CEO in due course and in the meantime will focus with Catherine on the substantial work in progress.”

SPG hits back at Hazelwood’s figures

The Sole Practitioners Group said the SRA data did not provide a breakdown between sole practitioners who are incorporated and those who are not. Over the five year period, according to SRA data, the number of incorporated law firms has actually gone up from 2,583 (24% of the total) to 4,225 (41%) – a rise of 63%.

SPG chair Kemi Mosaku reported that the organisation has had an increase lawyers wanting to set up their own sole practices, and work with the SRA has successfully minimised the red tape involved.

She added: ‘For a lawyer who is an entrepreneur setting up in sole practice has never been easier and is more attractive than switching from employment in a law firm to being a consultant in a so called virtual law firm where they cannot build their own brand and are not in charge of their own destiny.’

Tony Roe (pictured), a member of the Law Society’s Family Section and Small Firms’ Division committee, said Hazlewoods’ figures were ‘entirely out of context’.

‘I am not sure how useful it is to be presented with this sort of press release, particularly one which does not set out all its sources or data upon which it might rely,’ said Roe. ‘Many SPs are converting to limited companies or setting up as them in the first place – often on the advice of accountants.’

Land Registry unveils expansion plans

The chairman of the Conveyancing Association has called on the government to create a new portal to help fill the void left by the collapse of Veyo.

Eddie Goldsmith said conveyancing consumers suffered from a “lack of knowledge” about the process and he would like to see a “government initiative” to create an information portal.

Speaking to Legal Futures at last week’s Conveyancing Conference, he said the portal could include “signposting to the best way to sell property” and “education on the all methods of home moving”.

Stressing that the Conveyancing Association did not yet have detailed plans for a portal but was interested in all the options, Mr Goldsmith said the government portal could direct consumers to a further portal, designed by the conveyancing industry.

“We need to create a trusted e-community for conveyancing, which would sit on top of all existing case management systems and integrate with them,” he said.

He said that, unlike Veyo, the new portal would rely on “buy-in” from all the stakeholders involved in conveyancing, including estate lenders, lenders, brokers and the Land Registry.

The Law Society and Indian technology giant Mastek pulled the plug on Veyo this time last year, costing the society £7m. Veyo attempted to combine a case management system with ‘chain view’, which would allow all the parties involved in a conveyancing transaction to see the progress of a chain

“I’m still not sure what Veyo was intended to be,” Mr Goldsmith said. “It seemed to be another case management system for conveyancing – one that was neither needed nor asked for.”

However, he said there was still a need for a portal which offered “greater transparency” on the progress of a chain.

Later at a panel session, Graham Farrant, chief executive of the Land Registry said that following the government’s decision in the Autumn Statement not to proceed with privatisation, there had been a recognition that the service “might actually be quite important”.

Mr Farrant went on: “If you want to build a million new homes, we might be able to help identify some new sites. Actually, the best way to do that is having a complete land register.”

He said the government had asked the Land Registry to try and register the remaining 17% of unregistered land by 2020, and asked it to look at ways of improving the conveyancing process.

Mr Farrant said the intention was that the Land Registry would work with other government bodies, such as the Ministry of Justice, and the industry on ways to make conveyancing, faster, cheaper and simpler.

“Leasehold is the number one issue. You all know that if there’s leasehold in a chain, it can probably add five weeks to it.”

Mr Farrant said some form of register of leasehold interests might help, along with limiting the use of restrictions between landlord and tenant. In the meantime, he said the Land Registry was forging ahead with its plans for a central portal for local land charges.

Mr Farrant said work with the first local authorities on the project would begin next spring, heralding the start of what would probably be a “five-year roll-out”. He described centralising land charges as a “big job”, involving 326 local authorities and 30 million records.

The chief executive added that his ultimate goal was a fully digital register, including mortgages and local authority information.

“What a difference that would make to local authorities, estate agents and conveyancers. Your practices are heavily digitised, but our interface is not digital enough, although we’ve been making some big strides. The world is changing, the profession is changing and I think we’re nearly ready.”

Dixon says AI not taken over yet!

Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said that the market is ‘clearly embracing AI in its work’ with 22 major firms publicly acknowledging its use. ‘These are mostly large commercial firms but we believe this will soon spread,’ she said.

As for the question of whether AI would make whole swathes of the profession redundant, Dixon noted that academic studies are contradictory. ‘The picture is more complicated than sometimes painted in the media. The profession will re-invent itself as it has so often in the past,’ she said.

MORI pole by TLS about SRA changes showed “considerable disquiet”.

The survey which was conducted by Ipsos MORI, showed “considerable disquiet among those members of the public”.

Catherine Dixon, the society’s chief executive, said: “Changes to the rules governing solicitors are liable to be met with widespread opposition among the public. We urge the SRA to think again as their proposals will undermine public confidence in the solicitor profession and cause confusion for clients.”

A spokesman for the regulator said that the SRA would “be interested to see the detail of this survey. What the headline figures show is that the public is unaware that there is already a large alternative legal market not subject to regulation over and above normal consumer law. That market is providing consumers with a choice of services at what might be, for some people, an affordable cost.

“Our proposals are designed to enhance the quality of services that people can access in that market, by allowing solicitors to work outside law firms. We are already very clear that solicitors and firms must make sure their clients are aware of what protections they have should things go wrong and that requirement will continue.”

CQS time for approval falls from 90 to 70 days

Waiting for your Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) Accreditation? Further to a Today’s Conveyancer Freedom of Information (FOI) Request to the Law Society, we can report that, due to numerous improvements made by the body to the CQS scheme over the last few months, the total average time for processing both new and re-accreditation applications has continued to fall.

The preceding months have seen a processing time start to finish go from just over 90 days, to just over 70 days within the last few weeks of our FOI request being made.

Where applications have been delayed, the main reason for the nature of delay has been the submission of incomplete applications.

In the period from 3rd August 2015 to 3rd August 2016, 128 firms successfully received initial CQS accreditation, this was out of a 181 applications made within the same period.

Law Society responds to LSB call for regulatory reform with Brexit

Robert Bourns, president of the Law Society called on Brexit as a reason not to rock the regulation boat. He said: “During a period of unprecedented change for Britain following the vote to leave the European Union we must maintain confidence in all our markets and in particular the legal market. Uncertainty should be reduced, not increased.”

Bourns said “embarking on regulatory change in this climate, especially when there is broad recognition that the current regulatory framework is working, is misconceived.”

SRA wants reform to proceed “at pace”

Paul Philip, chief executive of the Solicitors Regulation Authority urged the need to reform “at pace”, saying regulation had to be in the public interest. “Around two thirds of the public think that professional legal services are simply too expensive, and small businesses agree.

“And fewer than one in ten people experiencing legal problems instruct a solicitor or barrister for their legal needs. This can’t really be acceptable. Legal services are simply unaffordable for the vast majority of the public and the small businesses that form the backbone of our economy. And the public purse does not have the resources to close that price gap.”

This is not the time to slow down regulatory reforms that will “support a healthy, legal market, inject more competition and innovation, provide opportunities for solicitors and improve access to law”.

LSB wants to scrap SRA and itself!

Legal Services Board Chairman, Sir Michael Pitt, said:

“The paper we are publishing today sets out the LSB’s vision for a future regulatory framework for legal services in England and Wales.

We believe that further legislative reform would help address current challenges and make the step change needed to improve outcomes for consumers, citizens and practitioners.

There is a need to tackle the tensions inherent in the existing framework. A new legal framework will help secure the important public interest outcomes that the legal sector delivers, such as maintaining the rule of law and ensuring access to justice. It will also strengthen the contribution the legal sector makes to the reputation of the UK as a great place to do business

Any new legislative framework should take a risk-based approach to regulation and focus on the activities undertaken by providers. It must also be fully independent of the professions and Government.

The existing arrangements are confusing and complex. We believe that a single regulator, covering the whole legal services sector and accountable to Parliament, would be best placed to deliver improvement, deregulate, save cost and act strategically.

I look forward to discussing these proposals with the Government and interested parties.”

Law Society produce template for SRA consultation

The SRA consultation on new separate codes of conduct for solicitors and firms, which will give more freedom for solicitors to deliver legal services outside regulated firms, and a separate consultation aimed at simplifying the accounts rules will both close on 21 September.

‘The changes proposed by the SRA have huge implications for the solicitor profession and for clients. It is vital the profession has its say on these proposals,’ said Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon.

‘Our template is designed to make that process easier, and maximise the number of solicitors contributing to this important consultation,’ she added.

‘We know solicitors from all over the country are gravely concerned about the SRA proposals as they fear that the reputation and standing of solicitors will be tarnished if these changes go ahead, resulting in two tiers of solicitors and vital client protections lost depending on where the solicitor is working.

‘Each solicitor will have their own experiences and draw their own conclusions on these proposals. A comprehensive response from the profession can only help improve the final decision.’