'A positive debate to make law efficient'

Members of the Charity Law Association don't always agree with each other, but that makes life interesting, its chair Alison Paines tells Paul Jump

Alison Paines
Alison Paines

If competitive tendering is the modern reality for charities, it is no different for their legal advisers. Charity lawyers are often involved in bidding wars for clients, so the idea of them collaborating to solve knotty legal problems seems unlikely.

"You quite often come out of an interview and see a fellow committee member waiting outside," smiles Alison Paines, the Withers lawyer who chairs the Charity Law Association. "But the working atmosphere is really good. We all benefit from participation - even if we are in competition, we can remain friends."

The CLA was formed out of a desire to help develop the law set out in the 1992 Charities Act. It now has nearly 900 members from across the UK, including academics, accountants, in-house lawyers at charities and investment advisers. Members of the Charity Commission's legal department are automatically given membership, and Paines says the CLA's relationship with the regulator is a good one.

"Sometimes our views aren't the same, but it is a positive debate," she says. "The wish to make charity law and governance effective and efficient is one we all share." To that end, the CLA forms working parties to respond to consultations and areas of contention such as public benefit - a topic the CLA still thinks the commission has yet to get the law right on. "There is a feeling the law is being changed even though the Government said it wouldn't do so," Paines says. "The 2006 Charities Act is better than it would have been without our involvement, but not everything we said has been fully picked up."

But Paines admits the CLA does not always present a united front on the issues. Fee-charging schools, for example, provoked a range of views on the 16-strong committee that governs the association. She says the make-up of CLA working parties also tries to reflect the range of views in the sector on each issue.

Nor is there one piece of advice that Paines thinks all charities ought to bear in mind. "It is what keeps me interested," she says. "All charity clients are different."

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