News in brief: "intimidating letters" solicitor suspended, solicitors warned over PPI, and more

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By Legal Futures

18 January 2012


File-sharing: solicitor admitted six charges

Suspension for solicitor who sent intimidating letters

A solicitor castigated for sending intimidating letters sent to alleged Internet file sharers has been suspended for two years and directed to pay costs of £76,326.55.

It is the harshest penalty yet handed out to a solicitor over file-sharing letters. Other cases have ended in three-month suspensions and a regulatory settlement agreement.

Andrew Crossley, formerly principal of ACS:Law in London, admitted to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that he:

• Allowed his independence to be compromised;
• Acted contrary to clients best interests;
• Acted in a way that was likely to diminish the trust the public places in him or the legal professions;
• Entered into arrangements to receive contingency fees for work done in breach of the rules;
• Acted where there was a conflict of interest or significant risk of a conflict between his own interests and the interests of his clients; and
• Used his position as a solicitor to take unfair advantage of other persons;

Mr Crossley denied the allegation that he failed to take adequate steps to ensure that appropriate technical and organisational safeguards were in place at his firm to protect against the accidental loss of personal data and documents, and this allegation was withdrawn in light of Mr Crossley’s admissions.

A spokesman for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said: “We welcome the decision of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. Some of those affected were vulnerable members of the public and this matter has caused them significant distress.

“We hope that it serves as a warning to others. Solicitors have a trusted position in society and therefore have a duty to act with integrity, independence and in the best interests of their clients.”

Mr Crossley has 28 days to appeal the tribunal’s ruling from the date the judgment is published.

Partnership retirement case reaches Supreme Court

The Supreme Court yesterday began hearing submissions in the case of Leslie Seldon, the partner at Kent firm Clarkson Wright & Jakes who was retired against his will at the age of 65.

The firm justified the compulsory retirement as a proportionate means of achieving legitimate aims, such as ensuring associates have the opportunity of partnership, encouraging a congenial and supportive culture in a firm, and reducing the need to expel partners by way of performance management.

These arguments have been upheld at each stage of the case, which now has broader impact with the end of the default retirement age for employees as well.

Clive Howard, a claimant employment partner at Russell Jones & Walker, said:“This is a real opportunity for the Supreme Court to recognise that to fig

ht age discrimination you have to challenge an organisation’s compulsory retirement age… A compulsory retirement age should not be used instead of a performance procedure.”

Solicitors warned over PPI mis-selling

The SRA has issued guidance to solicitors reminding them of their responsibilities when canvassing for clients that want help with claiming for mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI).

The High Court has ordered all those banks guilty of mis-selling PPI to pay back up to £4.5bn in compensation to customers.

The SRA said it was “aware of a number of firms offering to act for clients in making PPI claims”. Executive director Richard Collins said: “There is obviously significant interest around the claiming of compensation for mis-sold PPI. Many consumers may find that processing their claim is straight-forward, while others may not.

“Understandably, they may want a solicitor’s help and a number of practices are offering their services in this area. Because of this, we felt it might be useful to remind the profession to bear in mind certain points if engaging in work of this kind.”

The guidance reminds practitioners that clients and potential clients are not taken advantage of and do not suffer detriment; do not instruct a firm as a result of misleading information or publicity; have sufficient information to make informed decisions about instruction; and receive independent advice and a proper standard of service

Mr Collins said: “As an example of what to watch out for, you may not be achieving the best outcomes for clients if you suggest that, by instructing your firm, clients will obtain a more favourable result than if they claimed themselves. You will need to substantiate any statements made.

“You will also need to ensure any publicity relating to your charges is not misleading, such as where your charges are calculated as a percentage of any ‘compensation’ recovered. And you will need to make clear whether VAT is included and any sums written off by a lender are included in the calculation.”

The guidance note is available at www.sra.org.uk/PPI

SRA issues PC renewals update

The SRA is providing further help for those solicitors who missed last week’s target date for activating their mySRA account.

All those regulated by the SRA should have activated their account by Friday 13 January. More than 118,000 had successfully registered by that date. Those requiring a new activation code need to visit the activation code section of the mySRA pages.

The SRA’s contact centre has extended its opening hours to provide extra support – including to 9am-2pm on Saturday – while a video outlining the process for firm renewals is available on the SRA website. The contact centre’s number is 0870 606 2555. (+44 (0)1527 504450 from overseas).

Firms and individuals who are renewing their own practising certificates or registrations, with a first-occurring letter for their full name of A to D have until 13 February to renew, while those in band E-Z have until Tuesday 21 February to do so.

Those who wish to remain on the roll but not renew their practising certificate will be able to do this through mySRA from Monday April 2, 2012.

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