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SMDF: Madness

The Law Society of Ireland is a significant but Janus-like body. It is the representative body for solicitors in Ireland and is also the regulator of those solicitors.

The Law Society is Janus-like in other ways. It is a private corporation, nominally answerable solely to its own members. It has a public aspect arising from its representative role (no representative body can claim to be wholly private) but also arising from the fact that it has been assigned executive functions under statute to administer important aspects of the profession.

It is currently promoting a scheme to rescue a private company called the Solicitors Mutual Defence Fund Ltd. (SMDF ) from declared and anticipated insolvency. Currently, it is the Council of the Law Society that is doing the promoting and the promotion is directed towards the members of the Law Society (all being solicitors).

The Council convened an Extraordinary General Meeting of the members of the Law Society to get authorisation for the scheme to benefit SMDF. The Council failed in this effort; the matter had to be referred to the decision of members in a postal poll. The poll is due shortly.

The Council has told the profession that the bailout will cost €16 million. The Council proposes that payment of the bailout levy on solicitors will be compulsory and will be a condition of delivery of the annual practising certificate to each solicitor.

Currently, what the members have received from the Law Society, to assist in making the decision, is a “briefing note”.

Missing from that briefing note is any evidence that the Law Society has the statutory authority to do what the Council proposes. It is not even alluded to; it is assumed.

That is ineptitude.

Implicit in the convening of the EGM, and, now, the postal vote process, is evidence that the Council of the Law Society do not know the difference between a decision and an endorsement. (A decision is made on facts; an endorsement refers to a previous decision made by somebody else). The Council members are seeking an endorsement, while professing to seek a decision.

That is ineptitude.

The briefing note is not signed. It is in fact an extensive expression of an opinion (with many qualifiers).

Its subject is the advices and opinions commissioned by the Council of the Law Society on the issue. The briefing note is itself an endorsement of the opinion of some other person or persons.

That opinion or opinions have been withheld from the Law Society members.

That is ineptitude.

The Council of the Law Society, through its spokesman, claims that that opinion or opinions are confidential. In whom are they confidential? They cannot be confidential in their author, or the Council members.

That is ineptitude.

The Council of the Law Society has denied that the author of the supportive opinion on the Council’s bailout plan is Dermot Gleeson SC, former Chairman of Aillied Irish Banks. The denial came weeks after a journalist cited him as the author of a critical opinion commissioned by the Council.

That was ineptitude.

If the journalist is correct and Dermot Gleeson is the author of the opinion advocating the bailout of SMDF, that is ineptitude of a high order by the Council.

Falstaff’s judgment on Prince Hal springs to mind;

“Thou art mad, tho’ not seeming so”