News in brief: SRA launches Hillsborough probe, two more ABSs, PC renewal timetable and more

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By Legal Futures

21 September 2012

Barrass: issues impact on the public’s confidence in the profession

SRA probes Hillsborough solicitors

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has launched an investigation into the “role and conduct” of solicitors involved in legal proceedings following the Hillsborough disaster.

The move follows last week’s publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report, which it said “identifies serious concerns”.

However, the SRA has yet to receive any formal complaints about the conduct of solicitors involved in Hillsborough legal proceedings.

SRA executive director Samantha Barrass said: “We have considered the material in the public domain, including the Hillsborough Independent Panel report, and have decided to begin an investigation. The issues arising from the report impact on the public’s confidence in the legal profession and we will undertake a thorough investigation of those issues.

“The first step is to begin a detailed review of all relevant evidence arising from the report and from the various proceedings.”

PC renewal timetable set

The SRA has confirmed that the 2012 round of practising certificate renewals will commence on 1 November, with a closing date of 14 December.

Following last year’s disastrous renewal, it said extensive work has taken place over the summer months to implement a programme of improvements to the IT infrastructure supporting online renewals, and to the application forms and related guidance.

These improvements include:

  • Making applications simpler and easier to complete. This includes an overhaul of the flow and wording of questions and related guidance text;
  • Making it possible for organisational contacts in each firm to process the bulk applications on behalf of colleagues, giving firms greater control over the way they complete the PC renewal exercise;
  • Enabling one-click ‘record complete’, allowing multiple records to be confirmed as correct during bulk renewal applications;
  • Improved searching and sorting of an individual’s records to make viewing and editing easier; and
  • Increasing the support available within the SRA’s contact centre so that queries can be answered more promptly.

Chief executive Antony Townsend said: “Following a programme of user engagement over the summer and extensive work on both the application forms and supporting infrastructure, we are satisfied that the user experience will be significantly enhanced.

“We were not prepared to launch the renewals exercise or finally confirm dates until we were confident that the system was stable and the planned enhancements had been implemented. I am pleased to say that this threshold has been reached.”

Towards the end of September, the SRA will be communicating with all organisational contacts and authorised signatories.

Two more ABSs

Abbiss Cadres, a multi-disciplinary law firm specialising in HR, has become the latest alternative business structure (ABS) licensed by the SRA.

The firm combines legal, tax and consulting services to provide advice on employment, employee incentives, tax and corporate law as well as business immigration and international assignments. It has five partners, one of whom is a non-lawyer.

Fellow London firm Three Clear Solutions, run by sole principal Evelyn Ofori-Koree, has also become an ABS. The firm offers a range of contentious services, and lists accountant Michael Ofori-Koree as company secretary and head of finance.

Neither firm provided responses to questions about their ABS plans.

Conveyancing complaints move

The Conveyancing Association is looking to standardise the way its members handle complaints to ensure they are dealt with properly.

A recent meeting of the association heard that conveyancing is the second most common type of legal service complained about to the Legal Ombudsman after family law, representing 15% of complaints.

Katie Leslie, senior projects manager at the ombudsman, told members: “Were the housing market in better shape, we would expect to see conveyancing topping the list. Hidden costs and unclear rights and responsibilities relating to properties – such as the maintenance of footpaths or hedges – have the potential to alienate customers and lead them to seek the help of the Legal Ombudsman.”

Eddie Goldsmith, the association’s chairman, said: “Even the best conveyancing firms receive complaints from customers. Our members take these extremely seriously and the association is working on the development of best practice for this to standardise quality in customer service.”

Comparison site offers more

Legal comparison website Compare Legal Costs has agreed a deal with insurance broker Marsh for member firms to secure a 10% discount on their professional indemnity insurance. It comes from Marsh rebating half of its commission.

The site’s founder, Michael Welsh, said that as well as being a lead generation tool, “our vision extends beyond that and we will continue to add to our value proposition for both lawyers and users”. The offer does not apply to sole practitioners.

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