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Consumer credit – time to pay?

There is much confusion about how the Consumer Credit Regs apply to solicitors. Part of the problem is that simply allowing a client time to pay an outstanding bill can amount to the provision of ‘consumer credit’, and thus raise difficult regulatory issues.

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Client – sacking

While a solicitor can be sacked by the client without notice, the converse is not the case – the solicitor can only stop acting for a client with good reason and on reasonable notice. 

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Fraud – new scam

We assume that all firms are now aware of the ‘Friday afternoon scam’. This involves fraudsters contacting law firms and impersonating staff from banks, so as to elicit information to enable them to steal client money. Needless to say, Friday afternoon is the completion time for many conveyancing transactions, and it is the time when the fraudsters most commonly target account staff. 

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Professional – update

The Legal Ombudsman is increasing the length of time in which a client can bring a complaint to 12 months (instead of six months), from 9 July 2015. This is not being done at the instigation of the Ombudsman, but is the result of an EU directive. From a practical point of view, make sure that all client care letters, complaints handling procedures and final response letters are amended to refer to the new time period. 

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SDT – standard of proof

If you appeal to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal against an internal decision of the SRA, then what standard of proof applies? 

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Accounts – three-way reconciliation

The Accounts Rules require, for general client accounts and separate designated client accounts, a reconciliation between the client cashbook, the client bank statements and the matter balance listing. That reconciliation must be undertaken at least once every five weeks. A statement of reconciliation between those three sources must be produced, reviewed and retained. 

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Merger – due diligence

The effects of the recession – and the demands of indemnity insurers – have driven more and more firms into mergers. Many of those mergers may give a short-term solution to the problem of obtaining PI cover, but create long-term risks when there has been a lack of proper due diligence. 

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Professional – update

QualitySolicitors is scaling back its ambitions: it has reduced from 120 to 100 firms, and abandoned links with WH Smith and LegalZoom. National advertising has largely been abandoned and it is moving towards a more service-based model. Apparently, the network generates about 800 leads pw for member firms (which does not sound a lot if there are 100 member firms). See [2015] LSG 16 March 3.

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Client account – interest

The money earned by solicitors on general client accounts has plummeted in recent years as interest rates have fallen. Many are therefore looking at alternatives, such as Treasury deposit accounts.

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Solicitors – which regulator

Solicitors’ regulation by the SRA goes far beyond what would strictly be necessary to deal with the regulation of ‘reserved activities’. Hence, we are now seeing interest from law firms in being regulated by bodies other than the SRA. For instance, ILEX Professional Standards (the regulatory arm of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) says it has been approached by several firms wanting to change regulators. At the same time, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales is now a regulator for probate activities. One assumes that this growth in parallel regulators may indirectly lead to the SRA streamlining some of its existing procedures to make them more customer-friendly.

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