Providing support and advice for in-house charity lawyers

Lawyers in Charities last year took on a new name, chair and management structure. Sam Burne James reports

Gent (left) and Prince: deputy chair and chair of Lawyers in Charities
Gent (left) and Prince: deputy chair and chair of Lawyers in Charities

Lawyers in Charities was founded more than 10 years ago as the In-House Charity Lawyers Group. Last year the association, whose 250 members are lawyers employed by about 100 of the UK's biggest charities, took on a new name, a new chair and a new management structure.

LinC, as it is now known, originally had only a few members. Deborah Prince, its chair, says it was time to update its structure in line with its growth. "We needed to change the way we operated so that we shared the burden a bit more," says Prince, who is general counsel and company secretary at the British Heart Foundation.

The group's newly expanded, seven-person management committee was elected for the first time last summer. Prince was joined by the deputy chair, Susan Gent, and the secretary, Jonathan Nash, whose day jobs are at the Royal Academy of Arts and the Wellcome Trust respectively. Other committee members are responsible for membership, training and resources, sub-committees and policy. All of them serve a maximum term of two years, although Prince intends only to usher in the new era before standing down at the end of 2015. These short terms are designed to ensure the group continuously renews itself with new faces and ideas, she says.

The changes in 2014 included a full review of the group's raison d'etre; Prince says it concluded it should exist "to represent lawyers in charities, to act as the group that influences regulators and lawmakers, to raise standards and promulgate legal practice, and to share knowledge".

Prince says that the most immediate benefit of membership is joining its email group. She says members share queries every day and people often get replies from fellow members – anything from a piece of advice to a steer about where else to look – within half an hour. "Instantly, you've essentially increased your legal team by a few hundred people," she says. Members join for free and can attend group meetings or become involved in joint submissions to consultations; some have even combined to seek legal advice from private practitioners, saving on fees in the process.

Private practitioners need not worry, however – Prince says LinC neither hopes nor expects to put law firms out of business. "The feeling within the world of charity law is quite collaborative, and I think that everybody has their purpose," she says. "I would still go to a private practice lawyer for something that's technical, complicated, time-consuming or outside my specialist knowledge."

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