News in brief: jailed solicitor loses appeal, PC renewal progress, onshore LPO boost, and much more

HSBC: Law Society steps up pressure over conveyancing panel

Jailed solicitor loses appeal

A solicitor who was jailed for seven years for taking around £1.4m from his firm and his clients over a period of three years has lost his appeal against sentence.

Lawyers for Simon Morgan, 50, who was a senior partner at Leeds firm Milners, argued that there was substantial mitigation that should have led to a shorter sentence, particularly the actions he took once the theft came to light, including selling his house. This meant that the missing £676,000 from client account was returned within three weeks. All the money has now been paid back and the firm has been able to continue.

Nonetheless, while recognising it was a “harsh sentence”, the Court of Appeal said it was impossible to describe seven years as manifestly excessive. Lord Justice Moses said: “In our view it was rightly a harsh sentence having regard to the gravity of this persistent offending, the amounts at stake and the nature of the profession which this appellant pursued.”

PC renewal “progress”

The drive for online practising certificate renewals is gathering pace, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) claimed last week, as more firms and individual solicitors get to grips with their mySRA account, now the system is fully operational.

It said three-quarters of individuals on the roll have now activated their mySRA accounts, 42% of applications are in progress, 25% of applications have been submitted and 7.5% have been completed already.

The SRA said the new system speeds up the process by using a significant amount of automation. This means 90% of applications for an individual practising certificate can be assessed by the system and granted automatically, with no manual intervention. Most are now been turned around and despatched back by e-mail in 48 hours.

Recognising the difficulties caused by the new system, SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said: “We appreciate and apologise for the frustrations which the introduction of the system has caused. The new system is transforming the way in which we deliver services to the profession and regulated individuals, leading to a system which will be cheaper and quicker than the old manual system, which was expensive to operate and slow.”

Firms and individuals who are renewing their own certificate or registrations, with a first-occurring letter for their full name of A to D have until 13 February to renew, while everyone else has until Tuesday 21 February. Those who fail to meet the renewal deadlines will trigger the revocation process, meaning they will receive 28 days’ notice that the authority will revoke their permission to practise. This is the same procedure as that in operation when renewals were paper-based.

The extended opening hours for the SRA contact centre (tel: 0870 606 2555) will continue until the third week of February: Monday and Friday 8.30-17.00; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 8.30-19.00; Saturday 9.00-14.00.

Integreon opens onshore LPO facility

Legal process outsourcing (LPO) provider Integreon has opened an onshore UK delivery centre, which it says is the first of its kind in the UK.

The centre will provide Integreon’s clients with a full suite of LPO services, including document review, contract management, merger and acquisition (M&A) due diligence and compliance support.

“As the delivery of legal services evolves, it’s clear that most law firms and corporate counsel require a mix of onshore and offshore support”, said Janet Taylor-Hall, global head of LPO at Integreon. “Although cost is clearly a significant driver in determining the choice of location, there are many other forces at play, including ethical and legislative restrictions, complexity of the task at hand, familiarity with a client’s particular legal system, amount and type of communication required, project duration, client comfort with a location, time zone pr

eference and language skills. Some outsourced services are best delivered from an onshore facility.”

She added: “The passage of the Legal Services Act signalled the start of a new era in the delivery of legal services here in the UK. Our corporate legal department and law firm clients will increasingly be asked to function with efficiency and a focus on bottom-line results.”

Law Society launches advocacy section

The Law Society last week launched an advocacy section to support the 5,200 solicitors who have qualified as higher court advocates. The society said the section will provide mentoring, training and networking opportunities on a circuit and national level and “create the framework to provide the level of support delivered to barristers by their Inns of Court”.

The initial focus will be on helping criminal law advocates prepare for the introduction of the new Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates assessment regime.

Law Society president John Wotton said: “We are committed to working with solicitor-advocates to ensure that they are fully equipped and prepared to face the future with the confidence that they deserve. Central to this belief is our responsibility to ensure that solicitor-advocates receive the necessary robust advocacy training and continuing professional development.”

Society steps up HSBC pressure

The Law Society will not place any funds with any member of the HSBC group as part of its opposition to the bank’s “high handed and arrogant decision” to create a new conveyancing panel, it announced recently.

HSBC has appointed Countrywide to manage a panel of just 43 firms (39 solicitors’ firms and four licensed conveyancers), one of which is Countrywide’s firm of licensed conveyancers.

“The society is satisfied that these arrangements and decisions by the bank are injurious to the bank’s client solicitors firms who undertake conveyancing and will no longer be able to do so for the  bank,” chief executive Des Hudson wrote in a letter to practitioners. “We also consider the arrangements to be contrary to consumer freedom of choice and that this arrangement will be counter to the long term interests of consumers.”

The issue has been pressed with business secretary Vince Cable, and the society will also be contacting the Building Societies Association, the Council of Mortgage Lenders, the Financial Services Authority and the National Fraud Authority. It called on solicitors to contact their MPs and offered help in doing so.

“We would also urge all of those firms who are shareholders in HSBC, or partners who are shareholders in HSBC to use their rights as shareholders to press their concern. The society is considering making a small purchase of HSBC shares so that it may use that avenue to press its concern further.

“We are also seeking urgent meetings with the relevant consumer bodies to discuss our concerns and seek their views.

“This decision by HSBC is damaging both to the consumer interest and to the profession and operates in our view to no one’s interest other than the short term interests of Countrywide and HSBC.”

Herbert Smith announces Belfast expansion 

City firm Herbert Smith LLP has hired 18 new fee-earners in its Belfast office, bringing the total number of staff there to 56, more than double the number when the office opened last April.

The groundbreaking office focuses on the large-scale and document-intensive aspect of litigation, arbitration and regulatory investigations. The firm has also announced a partnership with Recommind, which will provide “predictive information management software” as part of Herbert Smith’s approach to e-disclosure.

“With the ever-increasing volumes of documentation that are seen in disputes, we were looking for a software tool that would manage the document review process in the most cost-effective and efficient way,” said Andrew Moir, an intellectual property partner.


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