Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Will Khan forsake the profession now he has the keys to the city?

Will Khan forsake the profession now he has the keys to the city?


The new mayor has promised to be pro-business, but will he be pro-lawyer, asks John van der Luit-Drummond

A new week and a new mayor of London. Sadiq Khan, MP for Tooting, former human rights solicitor, and son of a Pakistani bus driver (I bet you didn't know that), has emerged victorious over his Tory rival Zac Goldsmith's nasty campaign to be duly elected as London's third mayor.

Following in the footsteps of an increasingly bombastic and EU-obsessed Boris Johnson and Labour's Ken Livingstone, who seems to be stuck on a never-ending loop muttering about Hitler and Zionism, Khan must be hoping his new job is not a poisoned chalice. Meanwhile, Londoners will be hoping (political leanings aside) that the new mayor does as good a job, if not better, than his predecessors.

In a message to supporters on Saturday, Khan said: 'This victory is not about me. It's about the millions of Londoners whose lives we can improve by building more affordable homes, freezing fares, restoring community policing, and cleaning up our toxic air.'

However, thinking of Khan's background as a human rights practitioner, I can't help but wonder what he can do, as mayor, for London's lawyers and legal businesses, both big and small. Of course, being a former lawyer and a politician does not guarantee you'll be a friend to the legal profession. Just look at Lord Faulks QC, whose recent engagement at the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers's annual conference was hardly a tour de force - but can we expect more from City Hall's new chief?

Although the problems faced by London's solicitors and barristers are unlikely to be at the top of his agenda, it seems unlikely Khan would forsake the profession when handed the keys to the city. Speaking to the Asian Voice in March, Khan explained that having run a business - the legal aid firm, Christian Khan, now Imran Khan and Partners - he knew all about 'sleepless nights' worrying over overdrafts, business rates, taxes, and staff, and that he had 'experienced the sacrifices businesses make'.

Khan has promised to be 'the most pro-business mayor London has ever had', and has spoken about the importance of small businesses - 'the heart of [London's] economy' - of which many law firms are. The capital boasts 2,994 of the 9,403 private practice firms operating in England and Wales, according to the Law Society's annual statistics report for 2015. Of these there are 1,523 sole-ownership practices, 1,078 two to four-partner firms, and 74 five to ten-partner firms - perhaps the very definition of small businesses.

More than a fifth of all 133,367 practising solicitors now work in the City of London and, as Chancery Lane is keen to remind anyone who will listen, the legal sector contributes £25.7bn to the economy each year, a significant portion of which comes from the work done in the capital. The new mayor would be churlish to ignore the worries of such a significant constituency during his four-year term.

Khan's ambition to become London mayor was one of the worst kept secrets in politics, but even with one eye firmly fixed on City Hall, he received plaudits for his time as shadow justice secretary, during which he took the fight to the coalition government over its harmful cuts to legal aid and plans to scrap the Human Rights Act. It is true that Labour did not do enough to elevate the importance of justice issues in the build up to last year's general election, despite, I am told, a concerted effort by the shadow justice team to raise the profile of legal aid to more than the one sentence reference in the party's manifesto.

Can Khan now be more of an advocate for the profession from City Hall? Only time will tell.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor for Solicitors Journal