Meeting the new Law Society president and remembering the fallen

I recently met the new president of the Law Society, Andrew Caplen, over dinner in his official London residence.

Upon meeting Caplen I was struck by how passionate he is about the issues of legal aid and access to justice. Perhaps that is to be expected from a practitioner who cuts his teeth as an articled clerk in a Hampshire firm that was at the forefront of pro bono work in its local community, and whose then senior partner, John Griffin, helped design the criminal duty solicitor scheme in Southampton in the 1980s.

Caplen’s experience, first as a duty solicitor himself, and subsequently as the chair of various Law Society groups – including the Society’s Access to Justice Committee – will be needed at a time when the next rounds of cuts to criminal legal aid look set to decimate the profession and restrict representation for some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Pragmatic and humble

The new president clearly has ideas on what needs to be done to turn back the tide on legal aid but he is also realistic about what can be achieved during his 12 months of office. This pragmatic approach seems to be the reason why he has stapled his colours to the mast of campaigning against the recent LASPO cuts to ensure victims of domestic violence receive legal aid. It is a staging post in which everyone – both practitioners and members of the public – are likely to agree that something must be done.

Caplen is also acutely aware of the damage that cuts to legal aid have and will continue to have on the solicitor profession. He recently called for the second round of 8.75 per cent fee cuts, due next spring, to be reassessed and for the reductions in the number of duty legal aid contracts covering police stations and magistrates courts to be put on hold.

Following our dinner, Caplen agreed to my request to interview him for SJ on a host of issues. So on Monday I made the short trek from SJ Towers to Chancery Lane and was conducted through the almost labyrinthine warren that is the Law Society to speak to the man at the top.

Contrary to popular belief, the president of the Law Society does not hold court on a golden throne, in a lavish office, paid for by the practising certificate fees of the hard working solicitors of England and Wales. If anything I found Caplen’s new environment to be no more extravagant than the offices of your average law firm partner.

Although our time was brief – owing to Caplen’s whirlwind preparations to attend the 2014 annual meeting of the American Bar Association held in Boston next week – I was once again taken by his passion and humility for the task ahead of him and for his new role.

SJ readers can read my exclusive interview with Andrew Caplen in next week’s issue. Do tweet and email us with any questions you would like us to put to the President in future meetings/interviews.

Lest we forget

Monday also saw the one hundredth anniversary of the beginning of hostilities in the First World War. Of course, it was not until the 4 August 1914 that Great Britain entered the conflict. When the war ended in 1918 the death toll registered over 16.5 million civilians and military personnel along with over 35 million injured.

Included in the numbers of British servicemen who lost their lives were many solicitors and articled clerks. According to official figures, nearly a quarter of all solicitors and more than half of articled clerks served. Of solicitors, 588 were killed and 669 seriously wounded. Of articled clerks, 358 died and 458 were wounded.

The names of those who paid the ultimate price for defending this country are proudly displayed in the Reading Room of the Law Society. Photos of the war memorial that remembers those lost in both world wars can be found here.

This coming week is a poignant reminder of how young men from all over the country, and from every conceivable socio-economic background and profession, gave their lives in one of the deadliest conflicts of human history. We will remember them all.

This blog was first published in the Solicitors Journal on 30 July 2014 and is reproduced with kind permission.