22 March 2012Print This Post

News round-up: financial stresses hit lawyers, slander case struck out, and much more

Stress: more than two-thirds of LawCare callers were suffering

Financial problems and big workload hitting lawyers, says charity

Financial problems and workload were the main problems cited by callers to support charity LawCare last year, new figures have shown.

LawCare opened 392 case files in 2011, and of those able to identify a specific cause of their problem, 22% said financial problems, 21% workload, 15% disciplinary issues, 14% bullying, 11% relationship problems, 8% redundancy, 6% ethical issues, and 3% bereavement.

These manifested themselves as stress for 69% of callers, followed by depression (15%), alcohol (7%), with other issues, including eating disorders and drugs, making up the remaining 9%.

LawCare’s caseload fell sharply from 517 in 2010, which it put down a £30,000 cut in funding which left it unable to advertise. This funding has now been replaced for 2012. As well as the initial calls, it made 1,342 follow-up calls, and 107 calls made by volunteers to lawyers they had been asked to support.

PII experience “improving”

The process of renewing professional indemnity insurance became a little easier last year, initial results from the Law Society’s annual survey of renewal has suggested.

In his report to next week’s Law Society council meeting, chief executive Des Hudson said there was overall a positive message from the findings, which also included evidence of an improvement in the response times of insurers to proposal forms.

He said it found that the market has remained relatively stable between 2010 and 2011, although it continues to be dominated by one insurer. Firms are becoming more likely to shop around but could still make better use of available markets, Mr Hudson added.

Employment firm’s slander case struck out

The High Court has struck out slander and malicious falsehood claims brought by well-known employment law consultants Citation against another employment business, Ellis Whittam.

Citation claimed that the alleged slander of aspects of its business were spoken by an employee of Ellis Whittam to a solicitor who was a prospective client of Citation (and subsequently became one). As well as denying publication of the words complained of, Ellis Whittam offered an undertaking not to make various statements, but not the unqualified undertaking Citation wanted.

Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled that there was no real risk that Ellis Whittam would repeat the alleged slander. Citation did not claim that it had suffered actual damage and the judge said that given the alleged slander had only been to an unknown number of prospective clients, rather than the public at large, “vindication in the form of a public judgment following a trial is unlikely to be necessary, or of value, since it would involve public repetition of the words complained of…

“The acceptance by the defendant that it must not repeat the words complained of is likely to be as valuable a form of vindication that can in practice be achieved.”

SIFA launches support division

SIFA has launched a new division to provide solicitors with regulatory and practice development support.

SIFA Legal’s regulatory support includes a COLP and COFA compliance manual with all relevant precedents, webcasts, bulletins, helplines, consultancy for ABS applications, systems for outcomes-focused regulation (OFR), and in-house training.

Practice development support will centre on innovative structures for solicitors to provide access to financial advice for their clients, which is SIFA’s core work.

Among SIFA’s directors are Stuart Bushell, formerly the Law Society’s director of Legal Services Act transition, and Ian Cockerill, former head of the society’s compliance monitoring unit for financial services.

Managing director Ian Muirhead said OFR can help law firms compete because of the insistence on proper management systems and controls. “Many solicitors’ firms are at a crossroads. Some see consolidation and branding as an appropriate response to the competitive challenge presented by the Legal Services Act,” he said.

“We believe that the better response is for firms to take advantage of the positive opportunity to offer a more attractive client offering by working with providers of complementary services. And for the private client firm, the most compelling synergy is between legal and financial services.

“What few firms also recognise as yet is that compliance is no longer concerned simply with ethics, and the new SRA Code of Conduct demands the installation of management systems and controls as the basis for creating a compliant environment.

“This, of course, is what many law firms are lacking, and solicitors are likely to share the experience of IFAs, many of whom have found, somewhat to their surprise, that principles-based regulation has made them much more efficient as businesses.”

HSBC pressure growing, claims Hudson

A number of MPs, as well as Edwina Hart, the minister for business, enterprise, technology and science in the Welsh government, have contacted the Law Society about the controversy over HSBC’s conveyancing panel, following lobbying encouraged by Chancery Lane, chief executive Des Hudson has reported.

In a letter to practitioners, he claimed that the new arrangements are starting to cause delays in property transactions. He continued: “We know that many of you are highlighting to your clients the potential additional costs and delays associated with HSBC’s current panel management structure and that as a result some clients are opting to go to another lender.”

He added that further versions of the undertakings that non-panel solicitors have to sign when acting on a transaction with an HSBC mortgage have now been issued “which I hope will address previous held concerns”.

Conveyancers help Lloyds with panel vetting

The Conveyancing Association (CA) has been working with Lloyds Banking Group to shape the way data is collected on its panel firms, it has revealed. CA members tested processes and criteria before systems were further developed. This will be rolled out to the rest of the conveyancing panel at a later date.

Lloyds says it is committed to keeping a large conveyancing panel and has called for lenders to agree a system that allows them to collectively vet law firms.

Paul Collins, head of mortgage fraud at Lloyds, said: “To help safeguard our business and our customers against mortgage fraud, we need to ensure that the firms that are on our panels achieve certain standards and are familiar with our practices. The work we’ve done with the Conveyancing Association members is very important and I hope it brings us closer to finding an industry wide solution.”

CA chairman Eddie Goldsmith said this was one of the reasons the CA was set up. Mark Slade from Fidler & Pepper, who was involved in the trial, added: “As a practitioner I have experienced the problems caused by poorly designed online forms so it has been exciting to be able to help make the online system as effective and easy to use as possible.”

 


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