SRA ramps up investment scam warnings
Six solicitors have been sanctioned in the last two months for involvement in dubious high-yield investment schemes, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has said as it ramped up the pressure on the profession to steer clear of such work.
Since issuing a formal warning notice to solicitors in September, there have been three cases before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal involving schemes where investors lost a combined £35m.
One solicitor was struck off, three were suspended, and another fined an unusually high £40,000. Cost orders totalling more than £120,000 were also imposed on the five solicitors.
Six further cases have been reported to the SRA in the past two months, compared to 18 in the previous 18 months.
Further, a solicitor in Yorkshire, Stephen Pickard, was jailed for eight years for fraud and money laundering, after being used to give credibility to an investment fraud totalling more than £5m.
The SRA has also been telling the public  to be wary of solicitors operating as “middlemen” to facilitate schemes.
On Wednesday the SRA published a report on solicitors and investment schemes  as part of its risk outlook programme.
SRA chief executive Paul Philip said: “We know the vast majority of solicitors and law firms would not knowingly become involved in such schemes, but you should all be aware of the signs. The marked increase in reports to us of suspected involvement in these schemes shows that raising awareness is key.
“Unfortunately the small number of solicitors who abuse their position of trust can do great damage, not only to the public but also to the profession.”
New chair for consumer panel
The outgoing Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin, has been named the new chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, succeeding Elisabeth Davies.
Dr Martin’s seven-year term as ombudsman comes to an end next month. She is also chair of the Commission for Local Administration in England, and in that role is a non-executive member of the board of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman as well. The first director of the Centre for Public Scrutiny earlier in her career, Dr Martin has recently been appointed to the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
Sir Michael Pitt, chairman of the Legal Services Board, thanked Ms Davies for her work. “Her dedication to the rights of the consumer in legal services and her contribution to debates on the future of the sector will be missed.”
In addition, Mark McLaren, who during nine years at Which? worked on the Legal Services Act 2007 and other legal campaigns, has been named a member of the consumer panel, replacing Catherine Wolthuizen, who is an ombudsman at the Financial Ombudsman Service. Mr McLaren is currently a council member of the Property Ombudsman.
The new appointments are for three-year terms from 1 January 2017. They carry a non-pensionable remuneration of (for the chair) £15,000 for at least 30 days work per year and (for the member) £3,380 for at least 13 days work per year.
“Dishonest” barrister disbarred
Unregistered barrister Philip Pawson disbarred this week after he was disqualified from holding a company directorship for eight years. Both sanctions result from his role as the director of a number of companies, for which he paid himself a salary for work he had not done, and charged six of those companies £5,000 each for the same piece of legal work.
He was also found to have relied upon a false contract of employment in the court case considering his disqualification as a company director, and in so doing allowed the court to believe it was a genuine document when he knew it was not.
Mr Pawson, who was called in 1999 but never practised, was also chartered accountant.
A Bar Standards Board spokeswoman said: “Dishonesty is incompatible with the standards expected from all members of the Bar. The tribunal’s decision to disbar Mr Pawson reflects this.”
Miller joins Kingsley Napley as Bevan Brittan quits SRA work
Leading regulatory lawyer Iain Miller, joint general editor of Cordery on Legal Services and an adviser to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for 22 years, has joined Kingsley Napley as a partner in the wake of his previous firm, Bevan Brittan, deciding not to re-tender for the SRA panel.
Bevan Brittan managing partner Duncan Weir said: “This year, Bevan Brittan has been successfully extending its range of services and growing its client base into new business sectors and geographies.
“In preparation for the SRA re-tender, we reviewed the continuing level of investment required to deliver this aspect of our legal regulatory work and decided not to re-tender for the SRA panel work. This was not an easy decision because the SRA has been a valued client for a number of years.”
Mr Miller said: “My focus will be helping law firms, in-house legal teams, and other legal providers who currently face many challenges. My expertise will enable me to help these businesses to be more resilient by supporting them on legal ethics issues and the increasingly complex regulatory framework.”
Family lawyers worried about LiPs
The main concerns of family lawyers are the increase in litigants in person (LIPs) arising from a lack of public funding and the overburdening of family courts and delays resulting from court closures, the annual matrimonial survey by accountants Grant Thornton has found.
As in previous years, the third most common issue was a lack of legal aid for most family law cases.
Asked the key areas where they would like to see a change in legislation, the top answer among the 76 senior respondents was the introduction of no-fault divorces.
ULaw ups stakes with new Bar training course
The University of Law is to launch a Bar professional training course (BPTC) LLM programme for aspiring barristers, combining its traditional Bar course with a Master’s degree.
The first course will start in September 2017 – with applications open from next week – and the university said it was “designed to boost students’ chances of securing pupillage and to prepare them for a career as a barrister, providing them with enhanced real-life advocacy training and first-hand experience on legal cases”.
The new course will qualify for postgraduate student loan funding of up to £10,000 via the Student Loan Company, an option which is currently not available for the standard BPTC.
Jacqueline Cheltenham, national programme and student affairs director for the BPTC, said the new course was focused on “real-life advocacy and litigation experience, with students working on actual legal cases with the support of our qualified supervisors”.
Law Society offers solicitors advice on price transparency and modern slavery
With the Competition and Markets Authority set to issue its final report on legal services next week, the Law Society has sought to pre-empt its call for greater transparency on price and service by issuing a ‘toolkit’ to help solicitors .
Law Society president Robert Bourns said: “The Law Society’s Transparency Toolkit brings together information and resources to support solicitors to provide ever more accessible and relevant information to clients on the services they provide while also meeting their regulatory obligations.”
The society has also issued guidance to solicitors on their role in ensuring they and their clients “play their part in fighting modern slavery”.
The practice note  brings together legal requirements contained in the Modern Slavery Act, Bribery Acts and other legislation, and gives solicitors specific advice and examples of best practice for acting as a trusted adviser assisting their clients in meeting their anti-slavery obligations and managing their supply chains, as well as in their own firms.
Mr Bourns said: “Slavery is not a history lesson, it is a real and immediate problem. The solicitor profession has a valuable role in combating it, by helping to ensure that the many organisations we advise play their part in preventing slavery and human trafficking.”