In brief: ABS-in-waiting unveils strong results, barrister libel ruling, and much more

Quindell posts strong half-year figures

Quindell Portfolio, the AIM-listed company awaiting approval for its acquisition of Liverpool law firm Silverbeck Rymer, has announced that turnover for the first six months of 2012 is expected to be around £45m, with profits before tax hitting £14.8m, both figures the same as Quindell posted for the whole of 2011.

Quindell has made a series of acquisitions in recent months to pull together an end-to-end personal injury claim outsourcing offering for the insurance industry. In May it won a contract worth £120m over three years, and the company said its legal services, accident management and credit hire outsourcing businesses have also “signed significant new business”. It continued: “The pipeline is also healthy at the moment with over £500 million of contracts currently under discussion.”

High Court rejects barrister libel claim

The High Court has thrown out a libel claim based on a barrister’s response to a Bar Standards Board investigation.

In Mayer v Hoar [2012] EWHC 1805 (QB), Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled that the contents of such letters are covered by absolute privilege. The BSB dismissed the complaint against Francis Hoar, brought by a litigant in person who was on the other side of a dispute in which he acted. The litigant issued libel proceedings against Mr Hoar for comments the barrister made in correspondence with the BSB.

The judge said communications to the BSB are protected to the same extent as communications to a Bench of an Inn of Court and to other regulatory bodies exercising similar functions to the BSB. The complaint was dismissed by the BSB.

New equality duties for chambers

The BSB has incorporated new equality and diversity rules into its Code of Conduct, which will be effective from 1 September 2012.

The rules, which have now been approved by the Legal Services Board, include a number of new requirements for self-employed barristers and barristers’ chambers. The new rules include requirements for chambers to have a flexible working policy, use fair and objective selection criteria, and ensure fair distribution of work amongst pupils and members of chambers.

BSB chair Baroness Ruth Deech said: “We are committed to ensuring that… chambers [are] more proactive in the way they approach equality and diversity.”

Davies: unaware of SRA action over will-writing

Will-writing dig

The Legal Services Consumer Panel has had a dig at the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) over work to improve will-writing standards among solicitors.

In the response to the Legal Services Board’s consultation on making will-writing and estate administration reserved activities – which the panel strongly supports – chairwoman Elisabeth Davies said that in the meantime she would encourage the board “to continue to seek improvements from the existing regulators and trade associations operating in this sector”.

She continued: “Our jointly commissioned research found that solicitors and unregulated will-writers were equally culpable for producing sub-standard wills. However, while we are heartened by trade association initiatives to correct problems, we are unaware of any action to date by the SRA.”

SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said: “In addition to undertaking supervision and enforcement activity where particular problems arise with will-writing, we are now discussing with all our stakeholders how to improve standards of will-writing both within the existing regulated sector and in the proposed new regulated community of will-writers.”

CML backs joint representation

Separate representation of buyers and lenders should be the exception not the rule, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) has stressed, following the introduction of new instructions for conveyancers acting just on behalf of lenders where joint representation is not possible for some reason.

In a statement issued yesterday, the CML said it was concerned by the recent decision by the Law Society of Scotland to consider moving to compulsory separate representation in every transaction.

“As in the rest of the UK, we favour joint representation wherever possible. It is cheaper and more efficient for the lender and buyer, and enables transactions to be completed as quickly and smoothly as possible. Joint representation therefore remains the best option for lenders and borrowers in the overwhelming majority of cases.”

RICS releases free commercial lease

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has published a free small business retail lease to attract new and independent retailers into vacant high street space. It is the first time RICS has issued a free legal document like this.

The lease, developed in collaboration with the British Retail Consortium and authored by Nick Darby, a managing associate at City firm SNR Denton, has been devised to simplify and reduce the cost of negotiating commercial property leases.

British Retail Consortium director of business Tom Ironside said: “Negotiating the complicated and costly process of getting the first lease for a shop is a sizeable hurdle which our lease removes. Shockingly, more than 11% of town centre properties are currently standing vacant. As well as assisting individual retailers, this new lease will make it quicker and easier to get those empty units back into use, preventing them acting as a drag on the performance of an entire area.”

The lease is an eight-page proforma with explanatory notes, providing the tenant with fixed property costs and a clear picture of the responsibilities they are signing up to. Intended for leases of up to five years, it is a standalone short-term contract with no rent review. It offers flexible terms for occupiers, including break clauses.

American companies target western European advisers

Expertise advising companies in the targeted region is the most important factor when American companies instruct firms abroad, a survey by LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell has found.

American corporations spend 20-30% of their legal budgets on foreign law firms, it said. International firms in western Europe, with strengths in intellectual property, that can “get the job done” and have been recommended by other in-house lawyers are attracting the most work from the Americas.

The most important reason given for selecting foreign firms was that they have expertise local firms do not (74% rate it as very important), while 51% rated market knowledge and experience.

Intellectual property is outsourced most regularly to foreign firms as companies endeavour to protect their IP rights in foreign markets, while litigation and employment law also attract a considerable share of the legal spend.

The best way to get instructed is through a recommendation from other companies, as 87% of in-house lawyers firstly approached peers in other organisations. Alternatively, international law firms should also try to form relations with a company’s principal law firm, as respondents in 56% of cases approached existing advisers to help identify and instruct foreign law firms, the survey recommended.

Derek Benton, director of international operations at Martindale-Hubbell, said: “Interestingly, websites, seminars, conferences, internet searches and legal directories were equally important in the selection process, with a third of those surveyed using them as sources in the initial selection of a lawyer or law firm in an unfamiliar jurisdiction.”



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