Category Archives: Legal News

Important GDPR guidance published by Law Society

The Law Society of England and Wales has published a comprehensive guide to the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for law firms, ahead of new data protection rules coming into force this month.

The GDPR has replaced the existing Data Protection Act (DPA) as of Friday 25 May 2018.

The key differences centre on how personal data is stored and used. For example, companies will now be forced to maintain records of ‘consent’ and consumers will be gifted the right to be ‘forgotten’.

All ‘personal’ data is protected by the GDPR. That includes online and offline identifiers, such as IP addresses and phone numbers. As a general rule of thumb, any information which fell within the scope of the DPA also falls within the scope of the GDPR.

The other key difference is in the penalties for law firms which fail to proactively protect consumer data.

Under the new regime, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) can issue fines of up to four per cent of global turnover, or 20 million euros, whichever is higher.

The Law Society’s guidance in full can be accessed here.

At The Fish Partnership, we have a long history of assisting a wide range of legal clients with tax and business advice and support. If you would like to know more about our services, please contact us.

Study anticipates strong demand for commercial law services over coming years

Legal market surveyors are expecting the commercial law market to grow substantially over the next couple of years, a new study suggests.

IRN Research, which published the report, suggested that there will be a hive of business-related activity in the year leading up to – and the years after – Brexit.

It found that just under a third (29 per cent) of large businesses (with a turnover of more than £5 million) and 16 per cent of small businesses (with a turnover of less than £5 million) anticipated a growth in demand for legal services.

As a result, the market research consultancy firm predicts that the market will grow by 4.4 per cent this year and five per cent in 2019 to generate a total of £16.85 billion worth of work.

This follows a rising trend in commercial legal work, after the sector grew by around four per cent in 2017.

To capitalise on this work, the researchers suggest that commercial law firms should continue to strengthen their existing relationships with clients by hosting client seminars and evening events, to avoid the risk of being left behind by alternative providers.

This follows recent research which showed that “SMEs in particular often feel disconnected from law firms and legal advisers and have better relationships with other professionals such as accountants”.

The report also found:

  • 31 per cent of large firms and 23 per cent of small firms attended client events run by law firms.
  • Small businesses were more likely to meet solicitors at external events.
  • Two-thirds (63 per cent) of small businesses use only one law firm for their business needs, compared to 40 per cent of large firms.
  • Small businesses will find alternatives to legal advice where appropriate, with 34 per cent using industry bodies and trade associations, while 36 per cent will use an accountant.

“The last few years have also seen the growth of alternative legal service providers and these include the legal process outsourcers, flexible lawyer models, the managed legal services company, and advanced legal software suppliers,” the report said.

“These new providers have taken more routine and straightforward legal work away from law firms, either doing the work for in-house counsel or supporting corporate teams as they take this work in-house.”

For more information about the tax and financial services The Fish Partnership can provide to clients in the legal sector, please contact us.

Report into future of criminal justice system yields worrying findings

The Law Society has published a damning report into the future of the criminal justice system, which worryingly suggests that there will not be enough solicitors to provide criminal defence services in just five or 10 years’ time.

“Criminal duty solicitors are part of an increasingly ageing profession, and Government cuts mean there are not enough young lawyers entering the field of criminal defence work,” said Law Society president, Joe Egan.

The Society is calling for criminal legal aid fees to rise with inflation.

Its research shows that in around a decade’s time, certain regions throughout the country will not have enough practising solicitors to support the criminal defence system.

It shows that in Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, West Wales and Mid Wales, more than 60 per cent of criminal law solicitors are aged over 50-years-old.

Likewise, in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cornwall and Worcestershire, there are no criminal law solicitors under the age of 35.

The report comes shortly after criminal barristers across the UK launched strike action over a disagreement regarding recent cuts to legal aid.

“Criminal justice is at the heart of a democratic society and duty solicitors ensure a fundamental part of the justice system is upheld,” Joe Egan said.

“20 years without any increases in fees, and a series of drastic cuts have pushed the criminal justice system to the point where lawyers can no longer see a viable career doing this work.

“Access to independent, expert legal advice is an important right which ensures fair access to justice. If a suspect cannot access free advice and representation, a fair trial would be jeopardised, and cases would collapse.

“The Law Society is calling on the Government to take action and conduct an economic review of the long-term viability of the criminal legal aid system and to guarantee that criminal legal aid fees will rise with inflation.”

At The Fish Partnership, our legal sector specialists are highly experienced in advising solicitors and law firms on a range of tax and financial matters. We can support legal practices by ensuring that you are as tax-efficient as possible, which in turn can help you to achieve greater profitability. For more information, please contact us.

Claims backlog could cause delays for solicitors pursuing Employment Tribunals

Solicitors and law firms are being advised to steer clear of Employment Tribunal litigation, after official data revealed that the number of Tribunal claims received by the Courts had skyrocketed – and that a large backlog was building up.

Last year, the Supreme Court famously abolished Employment Tribunal fees amid concerns that the fees regime discriminated against those who could not afford access to justice.

However, since historic claimants begun receiving refunds in October last year, the number of new Employment Tribunal claims received by the Courts has risen substantially, new data reveals.

According to reports, the number of single claims received rose by 90 per cent between October and December 2017 – reaching 8,173 in total.

The data reveals that 22 per cent of cases relate to unlawful deduction of wages, while 13 per cent were equal pay claims, 7.5 per cent for breach of contract, and three per cent for sex discrimination.

The shock rise in such claims has raised concerns about how the Courts will handle the influx of new cases going forward.

The general consensus among law firms is that cases will take a lot longer to close – or even begin – as they will be ‘added to the back of the queue’ of the Courts’ mounting backlog.

Helen Crossland, of law firm Seddons, said: “One consequence [is] that parties will need to factor into their case strategy the fact they will have to wait much longer for hearings to be listed and for applications – including to address unmeritorious claims – to be processed.”

Verity Buckingham, lawyer at Dentons UK and Middle East, added: “There is no knowing how long a settlement might take and the damage that time can cause to your case or business. Do what you can to follow your internal policies and procedures before something becomes a problem.”

At The Fish Partnership, we have a long history of assisting a wide range of legal clients with tax and business advice and support. If you would like to know more about our services, please contact us.

Conveyancers need to provide clearer information, says SRA

Solicitors should provide clearer conveyancing information, particularly when advising first-time buyers, according to new research published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Following the results of a recent poll, the SRA reminded solicitors that buying or selling a property can be “daunting, stressful and complex”.

The independent survey, conducted by IFF Research, looked at 1,501 people who had bought or sold a residential property during the previous two years.

It found that 76 per cent of consumers were satisfied with the legal services they received, but concerns were flagged over the quality and timeliness of information being provided to them during the process.

The SRA also recommends that more needs to be done to help people make informed decisions when choosing a conveyancing solicitor.

Overall, 27 per cent of customers tend to use a solicitor referred to them by an estate agent, while 25 per cent prefer personal recommendations.

Just four in 10 were aware of the existence of solicitor comparison sites, with 33 per cent of those using one to compare the quality and reputation of law firms.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of customers say cost and specialisms are the two most important factors when identifying a law firm.

Paul Philip, Chief Executive of the SRA, said: “Buying or selling a property can be daunting, stressful and complex, especially for first-time buyers.

“The research shows that most clients are happy with the service they get from their solicitor. But there is clearly room for improvement, particularly when it comes to providing the detail on cost and service that people are looking for. This report will feed into our thinking on what sort of information we want to see law firms publishing.”

For more information about the tax and financial services The Fish Partnership can provide to clients in the legal sector, including conveyancers, please contact us.

£15,000 fine for solicitor who misused client bank account

A solicitor who was found to have used his law firm’s client account as a banking facility for several years has been fined £15,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

The law firm involved in the case, the name of which has been kept anonymous, has also been fined thousands of pounds for failing to “take appropriate action” to stop the solicitor from using the account for such purposes after the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) warned them that the activities were in breach of SRA rules.

A report in Legal Futures suggests that “millions of pounds were going in and out” of the account for a period of approximately six years.

During one particular 18 month period, a sum of around £3.56 million was credited into the account.

Between 2009 and 2015, several further payments of £3 million or more were deposited, the SDT was told.

Mr Christopher Langford, a Partner at the firm who handled the unlawful transactions, said that his lack of integrity in the matter “stemmed from his wish to maintain the convenience for his client that had always been afforded to him.”

He added that he had neither made any financial gain from the arrangement, nor caused any loss to his client.

Nevertheless, the SDT fined Mr Langford £15,000 due to the fact he had continued “with services that were in breach of the accounts rules” after being warned by the SRA that his activities needed to be stopped.

The firm itself was fined a total of £35,000 for facilitating the payments, yet three other Partners who were “inadvertently involved” were not fined.

At The Fish Partnership, our legal sector specialists are highly experienced in advising solicitors and law firms on a range of tax and financial matters. We can support legal practices by ensuring that you are as tax-efficient as possible, which in turn can help you to achieve greater profitability. For more information, please contact us.

Law firms need to be mindful of consumer habits

Solicitors are being reminded to consider the fact that legal services consumers are likely to show differences in the ways in which they choose their ideal solicitor, depending on the kind of legal issues they require assistance with.

According to a report from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), almost three quarters (71 per cent) of consumers hunting for a conveyancing solicitor will typically spend anywhere up to an hour researching their options – with 15 per cent of consumers predominantly interested in obtaining pricing information.

The study suggests that consumers looking for these services are likely to select their ideal solicitor based mainly on price and affordability.

However, the Law Society has warned that this is less likely to be the case when it comes to other, more complex, areas of the law – where consumers may prioritise experience and expertise over price.

“On the basis of our own research across different areas of law, I would advise the SRA not to extrapolate from one area of law to draw conclusions across the whole marketplace,” said Law Society President Joe Egan, criticising the SRA’s report.

“In addition, people’s priorities and decisions change as their legal situation becomes more complex – the experience of the solicitor, their skill-set and regulatory protections were valued over price the more complex an issue became,” he said.

The comments come at a time when law firms are facing new pressures to openly publish pricing and other information about their services, as part of a move spearheaded by the SRA.

However, while the SRA argues that “more clearly signposted information on price could help people,” the Law Society insists that liaising with a solicitor directly and discussing price and other issues head-on are the “most appropriate” ways for clients to agree on and receive a high quality service in line with their expectations.

At The Fish Partnership, we have a long history of assisting a wide range of legal clients with tax and business advice and support. If you would like to know more about our services, please contact us.

Conveyancers confident about expansion

A new sector report suggests that a large number of British conveyancing firms are hoping to expand this year.

According to the latest research from the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC), more than half (53 per cent) of firms are expecting a substantial increase in work volumes over the next 12 months, which will inevitably require a larger workforce to cope with rising demand.

Meanwhile, a further 10 per cent of firms are hoping to diversify and “branch out” into new or niche areas of work this year, the report shows.

CLC’s research indicates that confidence in the sector is strong – as evidenced by the fact that many conveyancers have also increased their prices and fees in the past year.

The report reveals that 48 per cent of firms increased their prices in 2017, in comparison with only four per cent of firms that decided to reduce their fees.

The average price charged for the purchase of a freehold property was £636, comparable with £592 for the sale of a freehold property.

When handling a leasehold transaction, these prices increased to £747 and £690 for a purchase and sale respectively.

Commenting on the findings, CLC chief executive, Sheila Kumar, said the report generally “painted a positive picture” of the sector.

For more information about the tax and financial services The Fish Partnership can provide to clients in the legal sector, including conveyancers, please contact us.

Concerns that changes to small claims limit will have negative impact on law firms

The Law Society has voiced concerns that changes to the small claims limit in relation to road traffic and personal injury cases could have an adverse effect on both law firms and claimants.

It says that upcoming changes – which will see the small claims limit increase to £5,000 for motoring claims and £2,000 for non-road traffic personal injury cases – will effectively remove “solicitors from the claimant side of the process.”

In a new report, the Society claims that these new figures would force a large proportion of claimants to have to face the courts without legal representation, and without the support of medical professionals.

“The Law Society cannot accept that a £5,000 limit for motoring claims is reasonable. It will mean injuries such as facial scarring, fractured ribs, a bruised chest and whiplash to the neck will be considered as ‘small claims’, and people will be forced to seek compensation without legal advice,” said Law Society President, Joe Egan.

In its report, the Society estimates that more than three quarters (76 per cent) of medical experts would decline to be instructed to give evidence on behalf of a claimant if a solicitor was not involved in the case – something which would become a common occurrence under the new regime.

This would prove problematic for both claimants and for law firms, with the former losing the support of doctors and the latter losing a significant amount of business, the Society suggests.

Mr Egan also voiced concerns that an increase in the number of litigants in person would “clog up the Court system.”

“The ‘David and Goliath’ analogy could not be more apt,” he said.

“By raising the small claims limit, the Government is removing solicitors from the claimant side of the process.

“Meanwhile, defendant insurers will still have the benefit of trained claims handlers who will have recourse to formal legal advice throughout the process.”

At The Fish Partnership, our legal sector specialists are highly experienced in advising solicitors and law firms on a range of tax and financial matters. We can support legal practices by ensuring that you are as tax-efficient as possible, which in turn can help you to achieve greater profitability. For more information, please contact us.

Solicitors need to do more to ‘streamline’ the home-buying process, says Law Society

Solicitors should do more to streamline the home-buying process, the Law Society of England and Wales has said.

Law Society president Joe Egan added that it is important that people have access to enough information to make an informed choice.

The report comes in response to a consultation by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

“Many people can get lost in the conveyancing maze. Estate agents, lenders and conveyancers all have a role to play in ensuring things proceed as smoothly as possible,” he said.

Solicitors should ensure that clients are made aware of their rights, as well as the responsibilities in the transaction, including an overview of the process and the potential costs and fees involved.

Having access to this kind of data would limit the number of purchases that fall through, it claimed.

Mr Egan said: “Ensuring clients are able to make informed decisions is just the first step in protecting their interests.

“We are also calling for all stakeholders to be held to codes of conduct or protocols which will maintain the high standards expected by consumers.

“There needs to be minimum standards which require all relevant information to be shared.

“Too often we hear stories about consumers being surprised at the eleventh hour, or after a sale has gone through, about extra costs involved in their purchase – this is unacceptable.

“We want to ensure consumers are well-informed and protected.

“This consultation is a good first step in improving this process and we hope the Government takes action to address our concerns – and more particularly the concerns of consumers.”

At The Fish Partnership, we have a long history of assisting a wide range of legal clients, including conveyancers, with tax and business advice and support. If you would like to know more about our services, please contact us.