In brief: regulators reassure firms over RBS ‘breaches’, £1m apprenticeships boost and more

RBS/NatWest relief for solicitors

Solicitors and licenced conveyancers who have breached undertakings or their accounts rules as a result of the computer problems at NatWest and RBS will not face disciplinary action, their regulators have confirmed.

The well-publicised problems meant firms were unable to see client account balances and transactions that had taken place over the previous three days, leading to concerns about becoming overdrawn should any payments be made out and particular issues for those firms completing on conveyancing transactions.

In a statement, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said that following discussions with NatWest and RBS, the banks confirmed that where firms have used best endeavours to ensure the payment has been made into their account – for example by contacting lenders (or the buyers’ solicitors) direct for confirmation of payment – they were prepared to give undertakings to indemnify solicitors.

“We would like to assure those solicitors who have given undertakings with regard to completion that we cannot foresee a situation where disciplinary action would be taken due to problems that arise as a result of these difficulties.

“Equally, should there be a breach of the SRA Accounts Rules as a consequence of the present system failures, and solicitors acting in their clients’ best interests to nevertheless complete transactions, disciplinary action will not be taken.”

The Council for Licensed Conveyancers echoed the SRA’s advice – both also highlighted the importance of firms keeping records of contacts with their bank – and said: “The CLC appreciates that the current difficulties may inadvertently result in breach of the CLC regulatory arrangements.

“The primary objective remains to safeguard the interests of clients. Provided that licence holders are able to satisfy the CLC on this point, we do not anticipate that disciplinary proceedings will be taken.”

Boost for legal services apprenticeships

The government has granted nearly £1m to create 750 higher apprenticeships in legal services over the next three years. They are targeted at young people with enthusiasm for a paralegal career but who have chosen not to pursue a degree

A consortium led by Pearson in Practice with the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), Damar Training and Skills for Justice secured the money from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skill’s £25m higher apprenticeship fund.

The new level 4 higher apprenticeship will help firms recruit and develop the knowledge and skills of their paralegals who have either already completed levels 2 and 3 or are non-law graduates. Specialist technical pathways will be created, including personal injury, commercial litigation and debt recovery.

Diane Burleigh, chief executive of CILEx, said: “We’re delighted to receive approval for this project. It will extend our ability to support law firms to invest in their future and current employees by capitalising on the skills and qualifications they already have. It will offer paralegals greater opportunities for career development. It will support the quality assurance of legal services. We very much look forward to working on this exciting new opportunity for vocational learning in law with our partners.”

Jonathan Bourne, managing director of Damar Training, added: “The qualification will be designed to meet the needs of the growing paralegal workforce and allows firms to fully integrate apprenticeships into their paralegal career structures.”

Alan Woods, chief executive of Skills for Justice, said: “We feel this project will be a game changer in terms of how firms recruit and retain talent to deliver high-quality legal services and remain competitive in these difficult economic times. The opportunities this will deliver for young people wanting to enter the sector straight from school is unprecedented.”

Call to donate dormant client money

A Cheshire law firm is urging law firms to donate dormant client money to charity after receiving SRA clearance to donate £10,400 to The Christie charity.

Caroline Calverley, practice manager of Chafes, said she would be happy to help other firms go through the process: “We explored every possible way of ensuring the money was given to the rightful owner, but our leads were exhausted and the money didn’t belong to anyone.

“After asking the SRA for advice, we were finally given the green light to hand over the money to The Christie, providing no one came forward to claim it… Hundreds of solicitors across the country have got dormant funds in their accounts. It may generally be small amounts but these could add up to a substantial donation if everyone got involved.”

To receive a donation of dormant funds from law firms, charities have to provide an indemnity and the SRA is collating a list of those that are prepared to do so.

Co-op: partnership aims to boost charitable bequests

Co-op forms will-writing partnership

Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) has teamed up with Remember A Charity and the Cabinet Office to encourage people to leave a gift to charity in their will to raise millions for worthy causes.

Research shows that whilst 35% of over 40s are happy to give a small amount to charity in their will after taking care of friends and family, in reality only 7% actually do. The partnership aims to encourage a further 4% of the UK population to leave a legacy to charity, raising £1bn a year.

This initiative supports the government’s objective to make the UK the first country in the world where it is the social norm to leave 10% to charity in a will.

Ian Mackie, sales and marketing director of CLS, said: “We are committed to developing our will-writing service to make it easier for customers to leave a charitable gift through a range of measures… Although many people are willing to leave a legacy to charity, currently only one in four solicitors or will-writers discuss this option with their customers

“In order to encourage this change, we are testing variations to the will-writing process to establish which is the most effective way of encouraging people to leave a legacy gift.”

Acquisitive PI firm unveils £1m deal

Neil Hudgell Solicitors, the Yorkshire law firm that last year set up the website to acquire business from practices looking to shed personal injury (PI) work ahead of alternative business structures and the Jackson reforms, has sealed a £1m-plus deal with Solihull-based Forum Law Ltd to acquire its high-value public liability and clinical negligence work. The firm will open in Solihull and has taken on one of Forum’s senior fee-earners, Kate Campbell-Gunn.

Neil Hudgell has in recent months purchased PI files from north Yorkshire-based Williamson Hill and the PI and clinical negligence caseload from former Peterborough-based Carters Solicitors, in addition to buying three other practices outright last year.

Jeff Zindani, Forum Law’s managing partner, said: “The sale is one of the outcomes of a pre-Jackson review of PI-based work and a new focus on boutique legal services.”

1,500 up for CQS

Bright (South West) LLP in Plymouth has become the 1,500th legal practice in England and Wales to secure the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) quality standard. The society said that 403 of these firms also have its Lexcel quality mark.

SRA warning over bogus branch office

In a statement issued on Friday, the SRA said that information it had received indicates that an office operating as Grindrods Solicitors at 25 Haydock Street, Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside, WA12 9AD is not a legitimate branch office of the solicitors’ practice, Frank Howard trading as WA Law.

It said: “Frank Howard of 10 Winmarleigh Street, Warrington, Cheshire, WA1 1NB is a legitimate solicitor’s practice which is authorised and regulated by the SRA. Frank Howard had a branch office at the Haydock Street address which closed on 2 December 2011. The firm no longer operates from that address.

“Any business or transactions operating from the Haydock Street address or via the website are not undertaken by a solicitor’s practice authorised by the SRA, and are not regulated by the SRA. Money should not be sent to anyone operating from this address.

“Any dealings with the office at Haydock Street, particularly if it involves the payment of money, should be reported urgently to the SRA red alert line on 01926 4396731/0845 8500999 or, or to the police.”



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