Representation of in-house lawyers: the debate

Legal week - Thursday 25th May 2006

Anthony Armitage is director and founder of First Law

A call for in-house lawyers to join together in a single representative body fell on deaf ears during the forum’s final debate.

The session — on the representation of in-house lawyers — featured senior figures from five bodies, including International Bar Association president, Francis Neate, and Law Society president Kevin Martin.

During the debate, conference co-chair John Fast called on the panellists to consider joining forces in order to boost the collective voice of in-house lawyers. "It seems we are spoilt for choice," he said. "When it comes to your ability to influence government and regulators, size matters and membership matters." Anthony Armitage, chairman of the In-House Lawyers’ Association (IHLA), agreed. "In-house lawyers have sufficient interests in common to not need separate organisations," he said. "The IHLA’s doors are open."

But other panellists were more lukewarm.

Stephen Faciszewski, president of the Association of Corporate Counsel Europe, and Sabine Lochman, executive board member of the European Company Lawyers’ Association (ECLA), argued there was room for more than one organisation: "We cannot be everything all at once," said Faciszewski. "There may be other organisations that pick on another need in the marketplace."

Martin added: "This is not a competition — but about exploring ways we can work together. One or two organisations can offer specific support; for others of us it is more a question of critical mass."

The debate also saw Martin acknowledge that the Law Society needs to do more to serve the needs of in-house lawyers in England and Wales, who now make up 20% of legal professionals.

"While what we do provides a valuable service, we know we could do more," he said.

Martin said the body would be reassessing the scope of its work with in-house lawyers when it reviewed the society’s ‘Have Your Say Consultation’, which canvassed the views of more than 19,000 members on the future of Chancery Lane in the light of the Government’s forthcoming shake-up of legal services.