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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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Residual balances – £500

Solicitors can now, at their discretion, pay up to £500 of a residual balance to a charity without seeking authorisation from the SRA. The previous limit was £50.

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Professional – update

The SRA’s mySRA system for the online renewal of practising certificates has been much criticised. The good news is that it is to be replaced with new technology, and the hope is that the new system will be far less complex and time consuming for users. [2014] LSG 24 November 1.

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Incorporation – tax changes

In recent years, incorporation has overtaken partnership as the most popular way of practising for solicitors. Often this is done for tax motives, but it is important to note that two important tax changes are being introduced that will significantly reduce the fiscal advantages of incorporation.

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