Leadership: the limits of setting the tone

leaderA leader sets the tone for an organisation, by what they say and do, and how they say and do it. A collective tone is important, but it doesn’t guarantee that everyone in the organisation will agree with it and follow it.

This week, the Law Society Gazette reported that a solicitor had been struck off, for instructing a trainee to alter the date of a mortgage deed, so as to meet a deadline for registering the deed with Companies House. The solicitor claimed that they had been taught to make Tippex corrections to deeds, when they were a trainee, but this claim was rejected by the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT). In IP Draughts’ view, giving such bad guidance to a trainee is worse than the act of misdating the deed.

(The Gazette has long been a source of titillating information about the misdeeds of solicitors, as established by SDT and SRA decisions. For non-lawyers reading the magazine, it has often been the sole area of interest. Now that the Gazette is no longer published in a paper version, the opportunity for non-lawyers to read it may be reduced.)

It’s not just trainees who are influenced by their seniors and peers. The Law Society has an important role in setting the tone for the profession, and in giving solicitors a common sense of identity and values. Solicitors should have integrity, and be trustworthy and reliable. They should be held to higher standards than the population as a whole. For example, it seems that a significant percentage of the population lies on their CVs (resumes), though the number is only 6% for lawyers.

There are risks in taking a strong stance on ethical issues. IP Draughts supports the Law Society’s efforts on increasing diversity in the legal profession, but he also worries sometimes about whether such efforts are “preaching to the converted”.  It is reported that around one third of the population are social conservatives, who react negatively to what is sometimes described as wokery. IP Draughts guesses that the legal profession has a similar percentage of social conservatives, which would amount to around 70,000 solicitors. Are the Law Society’s efforts on diversity focused on trying to persuade the large number of solicitors who may be instinctively suspicious of diversity initiatives?

This thought was prompted by an article in the Law Society Gazette this week, about the newest recruits to the UK Supreme Court, both of them white, male and aged over 70. Following their appointment, 11 out of the 12 members are male, and all are white. As the press has commented, there are now more members named David (three) than women on the court.

A majority of the comments below that article, and the associated “likes”, revealed a strong dislike of diversity criteria being applied to the court’s membership. As most of the comments are anonymous, it is impossible to know who the commenters are, but IP Draughts suspects many of them are white, male, socially conservative solicitors. The views on display are so far from the Law Society’s official pronouncements on diversity as to be extraordinary. They remind us of the danger of the Law Society speaking into an echo chamber of like-minded people, and not reflecting the views of a significant number of its members.

Setting a general tone is important, but so is engagement with the “silent minority” who resist the call for change. And for the small minority who flout the rules, we need strong disciplinary rules and procedures.

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Leadership: the limits of setting the tone

  1. arwlowe

    It is incredibly shocking that the solicitor hadn’t bothered getting to grips with s1 Forgery and Counterfeiting Act (or thought they could clumsily get around it). I’ve always been cautious (perhaps overly) about such such section in conjunction with s19 Theft Act (which can include causing false impressions to be given by the company director signing a contract) when commercial contracts have an ‘effective date’ or ‘contract date’ etc. that differs from the date the contract is actually signed. As in in-house solicitor, I’m not particularly minded to gift our Chief Legal Officer (who not only signs our agreements as a company director, but also holds sway over my career progression) a seven year prison sentence. So I always make sure that the signature block represents the actual date ink is put to paper (or a click is made under eIDAS).

  2. I express no ideas here on wokery in general, only on the singular they, to which I can’t reconcile myself in formal writing.

    You write: ‘The solicitor claimed that they had been taught to make Tippex corrections to deeds, when they were a trainee’. There’s a Greek name for the figure by which the ending makes the reader re-evaluate all that went before, and ‘a trainee’ makes one reinterpret the two preceding ‘theys’ from ‘all trainees’ to ‘the solicitor’. Why burden the reader with this?

    My personal solution (admittedly partial and not entirely satisfactory) is to draft around it (‘Laugh last, laugh best’) and when that won’t answer, to substitute the ‘universal she’ for the former ‘universal he’: ‘When a driver comes to a stop sign, she must stop’.

    The concision of the old convention is preserved, and so far no complaints of the sort ‘Do you imagine that only women drive?’

    • Fair comments, M. I suppose it is no defence to say I write these articles in free flow, with part of my professional brain in neutral. As for Ancient Greek expressions, I have forgotten most of those I once knew, other than synecdoche, which I have always liked for the spelling.

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