Opposition to the Clementi view of the future of the legal profession has emanated from the new chairman of the English bar, Guy Mansefield QC. "lawyers belong to a profession but Clementi uses the words "legal services industry", Mansefield says " I really don't like the expression - it creates great anxiety in my mind as to whether he has a real sense of what it means to be a lawyer" - according to reports in today's press.
The Clementi report is due to be published in the near future but there has been so much discussion of the anticipated contents of this report that it seems to be something of an open book. It is expected that Clementi will recommend lifting the ban on solicitors and barristers joining with each other in partnerships (legal disciplinary practices) and also allowing non-lawyers to invest in, and even to own, law firms (Safeways Super Law? ). Mr Mansefield believes that such commercialisation of the legal profession is inconsistent with the nature of the lawyer's undertaking "a lawyer owes a duty not simply to his client - in litigation, for instance, there is a duty to the court overriding that to the client. The danger is that, if people buy too heavily into the idea of making lawyer's more business- like, it becomes a matter of ' can we get away with this, is this legal ?' rather than 'is this something we ought to do ?'".
Mr Mansefield points out that the legal profession today must stand ready to test, not for commercial reasons but for reasons based upon the rule of law, a number of very significant issues. These include the proposals for ID Cards, for the detention of British citizens without trial and non-jury trials for terrorist suspects. These issues require to be tested from a basis of legal principle and not as to their commercial viability. Again, and in common with the Scottish situation, Mr Mansefield identifies the issues of Legal Aid and the withering on the vine of payment for this service by virtue of leaving the rates of payment unchanged for many years and the effect of this on reducing the availability of representation where it is needed most, at what Mr Mansefield describes as the margins of society. The Clementi report, of course, will have no direct application to the Scottish legal system but one has to consider whether and to what extent the changes proposed by Clementi, if given effect, would affect matters north of the border. As usual, the Scottish Law Agents Society is willing to form a meeting point for views and instances from around the profession, preferably by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org..