Andrew Holroyd

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In Focus this month is Andrew Holroyd, OBE, President of the Law Society of England and Wales, the professional body for over 130,000 practising solicitors.

 
Andrew, who specialises in immigration law and is the Senior Partner at Jackson & Canter in Liverpool, became the President of the Law Society in July 2007, the fifth Liverpool solicitor to ever hold the post and the first to do so in more than 25 years. His presidential year will coincide, in part, with Liverpool’s City of Culture year in 2008.
 
Andrew, whose father was a solicitor, was born in 1948 in Keighley, West Yorkshire. He described his first ever job after leaving school as a grave digger which he amusingly referred to as “a dead-end job”. Between 1966 and 1969, he attended Nottingham University to read Law. Andrew then did his Solicitors Finals (which was then for six months) at the Liverpool College of Commerce. After the Solicitors Finals, he worked for a charity shop for six months “delivering furniture” whilst waiting for the call to commence voluntary work overseas with the VSO. In 1970 he worked as a volunteer for the VSO for two years. On his return to England from Indonesia in 1972, he started his two-year Articles with Alsop Stevens Bateson in Liverpool, which is now part of the global law firm DLA Piper.
 
On qualifying as a solicitor in 1974, Andrew stayed on at Alsop Stevens Bateson for eight months. He left there in 1975 for his current firm, Jackson & Canter, which was located in the Rialto building in Toxteth (Liverpool L8), an economically deprived area of Liverpool which historically has a very high number of ethnic minorities because of the historically vibrant Liverpool Dock. Andrew has remained in Liverpool and at Jackson & Canter ever since, explaining that prior to qualifying as a solicitor, he had lived in Toxteth and “wanted to stay to make a difference”.
 
Andrew was for many years a generalist with work in crime, matrimonial, employment and subsequently building of the housing and immigration departments. Prior to becoming the President, Andrew managed a team of eight within the Immigration Department.
 
The Jackson & Canter building was burnt down during the 1981 Toxteth Riots. He was not surprised by the “explosion of anger”, given the level of exclusion of blacks from the mainstream fabric of Liverpool as  “you never saw a black face in any position of authority or indeed working in any of the offices, shops, post offices, working as a cab driver or bus driver. Coming from Yorkshire, I was pretty shocked by this”. Keen to maintain a presence in the area, Andrew and a small group of colleagues continued to work from a Portacabin nearby before opening offices in Princes Road in Toxteth and Church Street in the City centre. The firm is now a seven partner Legal Aid practice specialising in immigration and asylum and Andrew heads its Immigration Department. Chambers and Partners ranks him in the top band for immigration in the North.
 
Throughout his career he has been very keen on developing trainees “as developing the next generation is very important”. He delivers talks to students, including recently, to the students at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford and Cardiff and Swansea Universities, offering support and advice to law students. He believes that he was the first to take on a black trainee solicitor in Liverpool and that trainee faced an unbelievable level of overt racism within and outside the court and he had to make written complaints. In fact, it was because of the Toxteth Riots that he got involved in his local Law Society and was a member of the committee that recommended the first positive action scheme to get paralegal into law firms.
 
He was elected as the President of the Liverpool Law Society in 1993 and elected to the national Law Society Council in 1996. Since then has contributed to the work of several Law Society committees. He was Chair of the Training Committee and the Standards Board until he was elected to be deputy vice-president in July 2005. The following year he became vice-president and the President in 2007. His presidential year coincides, in part, with Liverpool’s City of Culture year in 2008.
 
Andrew has had a jam-packed programme so far this year both at home and abroad. In October, rather than seeing the far-reaching Legal Services Act as a threat, he thought it provided solicitors with many opportunities. The same month saw Andrew host a visit from the Law Society President of Zimbabwe, Beatrice Mtetwa, whom he had met at a Commonwealth conference in Nairobi. He said: “Listening to Beatrice Mtetwa showed me that we must raise funds to help.”  The Law Society launched an appeal to collect £100,000 by the end of the year to help the Law Society of Zimbabwe maintain its services for lawyers. By November 2007, £50,000 had been collected.
 
In November 2007, Andrew was joined by more than 1,000 people, including many solicitors, in a demonstration opposite Number 10, protesting about the suspension of the rule of law in Pakistan and presenting a petition to the Prime Minister Gordon Brown and to the High Commissioner, Pakistan’s senior representative in London. In the same month the he was there for the highly successful launch of the Law Society International Division with the remit of helping law firms get contracts for international work.
 
Andrew plans to return to Liverpool at the end of his term of office with the Law Society in July 2008 and is looking forward to doing new things within his firm once his presidency is over.
 
Whilst currently on a sabbatical, Andrew is a Methodist lay preacher on the Liverpool south circuit and received his OBE in 2003 for services to publicly-funded legal work in the city.
 
He is married to Caroline, a special needs teacher at Much Woolton RC Primary School in Liverpool, and they have two daughters, Emma, a teacher in Cork, Ireland and Clare, a crime analyst with the Merseyside Police.
 
 
Below is our interview with Andrew:
 
BLD: If you were to choose another job/role, other than what you are doing now or being a lawyer, what would it be and why?
AH: I have thought of social work, but with social work you are not quite sure what you are achieving and whether you have made any difference. With law you know what has happened at the end of the case and you know clearly what you have achieved. I would, however, enjoy being a politician because of making a difference to society which is what politics is about. The problem, though, is I have never supported a political party!
 
BLD: What was the best career advice you were given?
AH:  To be a better listener and to keep on learning.
 
BLD: What was the worst career advice you were given?
AH:  Never received any, but the worst career advice I could imagine anyone would receive is being told to do something for a false reason and not being true to yourself.
 
BLD: What was the best career advice you will give to others?
AH: Do what you enjoy. Don’t try to be someone else.
 
BLD: The person you most admire (dead or alive) and why?
AH: Mandela – he’s the most fantastic guy. He had no bitterness creating something positive out of a negative experience.
 
BLD: Please tell us your views about what practical steps the legal profession and users of legal services can take to ensure that organisations pay more than lip service to diversity?
AH: I think it’s about leadership and it has to come from the top. If your leaders are committed, you get an ethos of diversity. If your ethos is right (it may not be perfect), it filters down. If the leadership does not believe it, it is difficult to change anything.
 
BLD: The most famous/interesting/challenging diversity issues you have had to tackle in your professional role to date.
AH:  We had so few black people in the legal profession in Liverpool. This is why we at the Liverpool Law Society brought in positive action so many years ago. I do not, however, believe that positive action would work now. I think positive action is a catalyst but can be rather patronising with the potential to bring a lot of negative reaction. I believe that we have moved beyond this.
 
BLD: What are the greatest issues/challenges on diversity that needs to be tackled now?
AH: To take away glass ceilings and focus on talent and ability.
 
BLD: Whilst there has been the success in the court against the Government on unified contracts, given the Best Value Tendering and a host of other challenges facing Legal Aid practitioners, what future is there for Legal Aid?
AH: I don’t know. I am happy with the success on the unified contracts, but the Government is still not listening and taking risks on the supplier base by reducing remuneration to an unacceptable level.
 
BLD: As a regional practitioner, what is the Law Society in Chancery Lane doing to take Chancery Lane to the regions?
AH: Series of regional visits, communications being better, we have good links with local law societies and we have a leadership summit in February 2008 to see how we can best work better.
 
BLD: You have been very busy since you took over the Presidency, what would you say has been the highlight or highlights so far?
AH: A lot! The Excellence Awards is one and the promotion of the junior lawyers division is another.
 
BLD: How do you think you will cope going back to private practice and to Liverpool following the end of your presidency?
AH: Very well. It is expected that the presidency is for a year and at the end of it, that is it! There is a lot that I still want to achieve within my own firm. It is important that Legal Aid work carries on and we want to do new things. I have ideas and am looking forward to doing something different.
 
BLD: What are you most passionate/happiest about?
AH: Human rights and responsibilities.  Rights are nothing without the ability to pursue them. We need a society where rights are properly emphasised and pursued.
 
BLD: What are your dislikes/makes you angry?
AH: The lack of understanding by the Government of the damage they are doing to the Legal Aid system. No one is saying that things cannot be changed or improved, but the Legal Services Commission are running roughshod over those Legal Aid practitioners and the vulnerable people in need of their help. There are no plans for those in need in society.
 
BLD: If you could rule the world for a day what would you change/do?
AH: Work out long term objectives for the Legal Aid system, plan how we are going to achieve the objectives in a clear and coherent manner. At the present time, the Government has no consistent strategy or plan in place.