In fieldwork I conducted In May 2013 at the 'Justice For Sale' meeting of criminal defence lawyers, the unity amongst the profession - solicitors and advocates, constituents and representatives - was pretty clear. The strength of agreement and the robust nature of this alliance was almost unprecedented, created by the near absolute rejection of the Ministry of Justice's legal aid reforms.
Nine months on, the picture is somewhat different and one might ask - is this 'unity' slowly dying in the heat of battle? The Law Society are now considered enemies by a substantial number of defence solicitors. Critics have been vocal and consistent in their condemnation of the Society's negotiation with the MoJ over the legal aid reforms. Yet, today's Vote of No Confidence saw a near 50/50 split between those wishing to bring down the executives who have apparently betrayed the cause and those who, for various reasons, wish to protect them. Unity might well be one of the reasons. Targeting the wrong enemy and wasting energy may be another.
Most striking is how different the internal dynamic is now when compared to May 2013. Defence solicitors no longer seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet, regardless of their differences; and unlike the Bar, there does not seem to be a clear plan of action for the future. They appear to have lost sight of the greater goal. When an opposing force is dvided, there is clearly an opportunity for the enemy (in this case, the Government) to take advantage. Internal squabbling and power struggles are likely only to dilute the power of the campaign against reform. Unity was the primary strength of the profession - that now appears to be at serious risk. Moreover, the spotlight will shift away from the substantive issues to the grisly business of politics.
Perhaps the recriminations can wait until later, whilst there is still a war to be won?