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Sole practitioners: we won’t join Law Society

SPG rejects Law Society's invitation to join Chancery Lane-controlled Small Firms division

22 January 2013

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The Sole Practitioners Group has rejected the Law Society’s invitation to join its new Small Firms division, preferring instead to remain an independent stakeholder with no official status at Chancery Lane, Solicitors Journal can reveal.

The Law Society decided last year that it would phase out so-called recognised groups, which represent the interests of specialist practitioners, and bring them in as divisions within its direct control.

The Sole Practitioners Group (SPG) had until the end of December last year to decide whether it would turn itself into the new Law Society-controlled group or remain independent and raise its own revenue.

Last month the 15-strong executive committee voted unanimously against the move, a decision they imparted to the Law Society on 15 January at a meeting with its head of corporate business Nigel Spencer and membership board.

“They said we should join their new division; we said we wanted to keep our magazine, our conference and our website; they said we couldn’t, that we would just be able to advise,” said West End sole practitioner and council member Ian Lithman.

The former SPG chair said the committee was disappointed that Chancery Lane would, for the first time, not be sending representatives to the group’s annual conference.

LeO’s Adam Sampson and SRA chief executive Anthony Townsend will be present at the conference, which is taking place in Paris on 10-12 May 2013, and the Legal Services Board is also expected to field a senior board member.

“We’re friendly with the SRA, the legal ombudsman and the LSB, and we want to be friendly with the Law Society. It’s disappointing that they are now saying they cannot send somebody because of prior commitments,” Lithman said.

An immediate consequence is that SPG will no longer receive funding from the Law Society, which last year was worth £24,000.

There is also likely to be an issue with seats on the membership council. Lithman, one of two SPG representatives and whose tenure finishes in June, said sole practitioners were entitled to retain members on the council.

“The SPG membership does of course contribute to the financial cost of the Law Society via the Practising Certificate Fee, as with every other practicing Solicitor, and are members of the Law Society entitled to the basic benefits without additional payment,” he said.

Few recognised groups have so far opted to join the Law Society’s ranks as new divisions.

On 10 December 2012, the Association of Women Lawyers (AWS) voted to morph into the Women Lawyers Division.

The only other groups to have taken the same step so far are the Trainee Solicitors Group and the Young Solicitors Group, which merge to create the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers division in January 2008.

Arguably more significant groups have spurned Chancery Lane’s advances. The Solicitors Association of Higher Courts Advocate (SAHCA), which represents solicitor-advocates, decided in January 2012 not to join the Law Society’s Advocacy section.

Local government lawyers, who have united in a new organisation, Lawyers in Local Government, are also poised to vote against joining Chancery Lane’s In-House division.