In brief: latest ABS, Co-op wins contract, top firms “don’t want” external cash, SRA race probe

Latest ABS

Birmingham law firm Howell & Co has become the latest alternative business structure (ABS) licensed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), taking the total to 40 (including the five licences awarded to Irwin Mitchell).

As a legal disciplinary practice with a non-lawyer partner – Jim Crocker, its new head of finance and administration – the four-partner practice would have had to convert to become an ABS anyway. It offers a wide range of private client and commercial services.

According to the firm’s website, Mr Crocker’s career in the law spans more than 50 years, including 35 years “defending clients in high-profile blue and white-collar criminal cases”.

Fellow partner Dr Laura Brampton said the firm does not intend to use the ABS licence to expand. “We’re going to be exactly the same. There’s no plans to get hold of any external sources of funding from anyone else; it’s going to be the ‘same old’, for us.”

Co-op: legal aid contract win

Co-op gains contract

Co-operative Legal Services has been named one of 12 organisations to win telephone legal advice contracts from the Legal Services Commission. It will provide advice on family law alongside law firm Duncan Lewis and Access Legal Training. Carillion Energy Services won a contract to provide housing and debt advice, having last year taken over contract holder Eaga.

Top firms “not interested” in external investment

There is hardly any appetite for external investment among the largest law firms, according to the latest survey on the issue.

The poll of 45 of the top 200 firms found that just one was either receiving or considering external investment, with 71% said they would not consider it.

However, the survey, conducted by business software company Access Group, also found that 69% of firms have recruited non-lawyer professionals as a “direct result” of changes in the legal market, mainly in finance, business and marketing roles. There was strong evidence of firms restructuring in order to compete more effectively.

The survey focused particularly on HR issues and reported that while financial compensation was the main reward for positive staff performance, partnership opportunities tied with better work/life balance as the next most popular incentive. “[This] affirms the growing belief in the industry that law firm partnership status is not the dominant driver it once was,” the survey said.

ICO issues heavy fines to spam texters

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) yesterday served monetary penalties totalling £440,000 on two owners of a marketing company targeting personal injury and financial services claims which it said has “plagued the public with millions of unlawful spam texts over the past three years”.

This is the first time that the ICO has used its power to issue a monetary penalty for a serious breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations since these powers were approved in January 2012.

The ICO is also currently considering issuing penalties to three other companies believed to be acting in breach of the regulations as the office continues its crackdown on the illegal marketing industry.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said: “The public have told us that they are distressed and annoyed by the constant bombardment of illegal texts and calls and we are currently cracking down on the companies responsible, using the full force of the law.

“In March we set up a survey on the ICO website so people can tell us about any unwanted texts and calls they have been receiving. So far we have received over 60,000 responses. We know the majority of these messages and calls have been made by companies who try to remain anonymous in the hope they can profit by selling personal information to claims management companies and other marketing organisations. We are using the information provided by the public to identify those responsible.”

The ICO said the evidence it obtained showed the company was using unregistered pay-as-you-go sim cards to send out as many as 840,000 illegal text messages a day with an income of £7,000-£8,000 a day. The ICO has connected the company to over 400 complaints to its office about spam texts.

The two men are also facing prosecution from the ICO for failing to notify that the company was processing personal information. Notification is a legal requirement for organisations under the Data Protection Act punishable by a penalty up to £5,000 in the Magistrates Court, and a potentially unlimited fine in the Crown Court.

SRA agrees race probe

Some 160 disciplinary cases handled by the SRA are to be investigated for any evidence of disproportionality in the decisions made in the cases of black and minority ethnic (BME) solicitors, compared with their white colleagues.

Following agreement reached with the SRA’s external implementation group (EIG), Professor Gus John – who was appointed in August – will look at 80 files prepared for Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal prosecutions and 80 files which were dealt with by internal adjudication. Half the files will relate to BME and half to white respondents.

Lord Herman Ouseley, chair of the EIG, which was set up in 2008 to work with the SRA to address issues of disproportionality among BME members of the profession, said: “This review is timely as there are claims by some BME solicitors that they are not being treated fairly, when taken through the regulatory processes. The profession needs to have total confidence that the regulatory processes are not in any way discriminatory.”

Professor John is expected to complete the review in mid-2013

Integreon goes to heart of the City

Legal process outsoucer Integreon has opened a 100-seat legal document review centre in London, sharing office space with CMS Cameron McKenna.

The London centre adds to the Bristol facility Integreon opened in January, in addition to its offshore review centres in India and the Philippines.

“The opening of our London facility is timely, since many UK organisations are preparing for the April 2013 implementation of new rules on disclosure as part of the Jackson reforms,” said Juliet Hanna, head of document review services at Integreon. “Discovery costs will be subject to closer scrutiny by the courts and we are very pleased to be able to offer a lower-cost option for managed review right on the doorstep of most of our UK clients.”

The company emphasised that while it is sharing office space with Camerons, a client of Integreon’s, the new capability is not related to the firm. Integreon services a number of other clients from segregated and secured offices.

Insurance for COLPs and COFAs

Intermediary Lockton has launched a new insurance cover that protects compliance officers for legal practice and for finance and administration (COLPs/COFAs) against a raft of legal, compliance and regulatory liabilities.

Lockton Regulatory Response Insurance, underwritten by a “major” Lloyd’s syndicate, is designed to protect COLPs and COFAs from any personal liability incurred in the course of their regulatory duties.

It covers not only Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) enforcement action, but also actions brought by other regulators, including the Serious Organised Crime Agency or the Financial Services Authority. It extends to investigations initiated against firms’ money laundering reporting officers.

Heap stays at the top

Michael Heap has been reappointed as chairman of the Intellectual Property Regulation Board (IPReg), which regulates members of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys and the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys. He was IPReg’s first chairman in June 2009, and his reappointment – for three years – comes into effect on 1 June 2013.

Mr Heap qualified as a barrister in 1975. Before being appointed IPReg’s first chairman, he had served as a justice’s clerk and chief executive in South Wales and later as chief executive of the Greater London Courts Authority. His experience encompasses organisational development, a number of regulatory enquiries and he was director of development at the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Legal Futures understands that IPReg is on course to submit its application to become an ABS licensing authority before the end of the year.

Probate firms offered magical system

The Probate Wizard, a DIY probate service launched earlier this year by The Law Wizard, is now available to law firms as a white-labelled probate marketing and data-capture system.

The Probate Wizard: White-Labelled lets clients provide details of the estate via a step-by-step online interface. The system compiles the key probate and inheritance tax forms to assist the lawyer, who will, in most cases, continue the case.

Tom Hiskey, co-founder of The Law Wizard and a former probate solicitor, said: “Statistics show that DIY probate market is increasing. Our professional clients are seeking to redress the balance. They are using The Probate Wizard to attract more clients through convenient, fixed-fee packages, and up-selling and cross-selling service where possible.

“In a rapidly-changing market with new entrants and impending regulation, firms are telling us that they need to stand out.”

The cloud-based system is charged on a pay-per-use basis.



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