News in brief: mortgage fraud, ProcureCo, LPO and more

Belfast: City firm receives £2.5m grant from Invest Northern Ireland

Lending a hand 

Mortgage fraud reports to the Solicitors Regulation Authority are at an “historic low” and the SRA has so far saved the lending industry more than £35 million at risk from fraud, it has emerged. Responding to a query by legal software provider Quest, the SRA’s director of intelligence and investigations, Steve Wilmott, said its dedicated mortgage fraud process had worked “proactively” to protect the cash from “serious attempts to use the profession to facilitate mortgage fraud”.

Vehicle hire 

Barristers are using the Bar Council’s ProcureCo model in a range of ways, the council has reported. In updated guidance on ProcureCo, it said chambers has set up the procurement vehicle: 

  • To bid for and enter into block contracts with large purchasers, such as local authorities;
  • Where they want to use a more uniform marketing approach to procure work directly from the public or companies;
  • To develop arbitration and mediation centres;
  • Where it is more desirable for chambers to hold the purse strings and then instruct solicitors and others as they see appropriate; and
  • To expand international work.

CAB rank rule 

Lawyers2you, the consumer brand of Midlands law firm Blakemores, will attempt to fill a vacuum in legal advice if the Citizens’ Advice Bureau closes five offices around Birmingham this month due to funding cuts. The firm, which puts mobile stands with legal advisers in strategic locations such as shopping centres, will deploy stands close to the CABx, offering free initial legal advice on a range of matters. 

Belfast bound 

Magic circle firm Allen & Overy is to open a business support services centre in Belfast this autumn to boost economies of scale. It will cover elements of IT, human resources, business services and library. The firm expects the office to employ 300 people by 2014, including the transfer of 180 roles from London. The move follows an announcement by Herbert Smith that it will open a document processing centre in Belfast in April. Allen & Overy has been offered assistance of £2.5 million by Invest Northern Ireland, the government agency. The firm said the incentive, plus the number of “quality legal and other graduates”, were factors in its decision to set up in Belfast. 

Susskind on board 

Professor Richard Susskind is to become independent chairman of the advisory board of global legal outsourcing company, Integreon. The board will consist of law firm managing partners and general counsel at organisations served by the company. Professor Susskind said: “For several years, I have been studying the development of legal process outsourcing and have maintained that it will play a central role in tomorrow’s legal world.” He added that Integreon was “one of the most creative and professional providers in the field”. 

Back to jail 

A former solicitor who was jailed for five years in 2003 for money laundering in a £38 million VAT fraud has been recalled to prison after failing to pay his confiscation order in full. Paul Morris, from Staffordshire, laundered £8 million through his firm, AH Brooks in Leek, in the so-called “missing trader” carousel scam, involving mobile phones. He will serve a further two years and three months after paying off less than half of the £410,000 plus interest that he owed. 

Risky business 

More than three-quarters of potential personal injury claimants would not risk a claim if they were liable for a defendant’s legal costs, according to a survey by the Access to Justice Action Group (AJAG), which opposes the Jackson reforms. The survey said 77% of the 1,000 people it asked, most of whom had never made a claim, would not take even a “very small” risk of having to pay the other side’s costs. It also found that 53% agreed with “no win, no fee” arrangements, while 27% were undecided and 19% disagreed. AJAG’s spokesman, the solicitor and former Labour MP Andrew Dismore, said the survey showed access to justice for ordinary people would be “severely restricted” if Lord Justice Jackson’s proposals on recoverability of costs were adopted. 

On report 

A website has been launched to encourage people who have complained to the Legal Ombudsman to publish the decisions they receive. While the ombudsman is currently consulting on whether to publish, there is nothing to stop a complainant going public with the decision. However, has not yet actually published a decision.


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