Category Archives: Legal News

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.

Transparency changes could have widely-felt impact on legal sector

The Law Society has warned law firms that plans to publish prices on websites could turn the consumer focus to rock-bottom fees rather than a secure service.

Late last year, the Legal Services Board (LSB) gave the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) the green light to proceed with plans to improve transparency in the legal sector.

This includes measures to force legal services providers to display information on fees and associated costs on their own websites, as well as the development of legal services comparison sites to allow customers to compare providers in one place.

The LSB said the measures would ensure there is better information available for clients in relation to price, quality, redress, and regulation.

But the Law Society believes an ‘umbrella approach’ to price publishing would harm the sector’s ability to provide a safe service.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ – these are complex issues that need careful unpicking. In this instance the regulatory approach is inflexible and risks driving competition on price alone, rather than on other important considerations such as quality or protections,” said Law Society president Joe Egan.

“Legal issues can be extremely complex, so publishing a raft of information without proper context – as the regulator is proposing – may confuse rather than aid consumers.”

In a recent London Economics survey, consumers were asked to pick a law firm to instruct based on price alone. The participants were then told that many of the services they picked were not regulated and did not have compulsory insurance.

“The majority of participants believed that all legal service providers were regulated in the same way due to the importance of the service provided,” researchers said.

“In the behavioural forum, once an event that generated harm occurred, participants that had previously selected the cheaper provider… often changed their mind selecting instead the provider that was labelled as a ‘solicitor’ and stated that they were regulated by the SRA.

“Participants’ reasoning was that they valued solicitors’ skills, choosing a regulated provider provided them with peace of mind and that they felt they would have a higher level of protection from the ‘solicitors’ regulator’.”

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

SRA report warns of potential threats to the legal profession

A recent regulatory report suggests that solicitors and law firms have “an important role to play” in identifying money laundering, and in attempting to dispel what is quickly becoming one of the greatest threats to the legal profession.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) latest annual Risk Outlook report argues that solicitors “cannot afford to be complacent” in the face of this growing issue.

Citing research from the National Risk Assessment of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing 2017, it warns that the legal sector is facing a “high risk” of being exploited for money laundering purposes.

It adds that known instances of money laundering increased by 10 per cent in 2016 – and appear to be on the rise.

According to the SRA, money is most typically laundered through property transactions and company formations – meaning that any law firms working in these areas are potentially at risk of being targeted.

The regulator has also warned solicitors to be hyper-alert in terms of their own accounts and to diligently supervise the ways in which client money is being used within their organisation.

Paul Philip, the SRA’s Chief Executive, said: “Solicitors have an important role to play and the majority want to do the right thing, but no one can afford to be complacent.

“This is a high risk for the profession and we must all step up to deal with the challenge,” he said.

“Keeping the profession free of money laundering is in everyone’s interest. It means that we can disrupt serious crime – crime that funds everything from terrorists to people traffickers.

The SRA’s report also identified ‘dubious’ investment schemes and cybercrime as other potential risks facing the profession.

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 expected to go head-to-head for £650 million public sector contract

Solicitors and law firms are expected to go head-to-head this year after the Government revealed plans to set up a £650 million marketplace for the public sector to procure legal services.

It forms part of the public sector’s plan to cut down on the costs of external legal advice.

The Crown Commercial Services (CCS) said it wants to set up a “commercial vehicle” to provide commercial legal services, which will cover more than 35 “legal practice sectors” and 75 smaller “practice areas” – ranging from banking and finance to competition and EU law.

Bidding firms must “be able to demonstrate the capacity and capability within the bid entity to fully provide at least one of the ‘Practice Areas’,” it said.

“The Crown Commercial Service is looking to set up a commercial vehicle or vehicles for the provision of a comprehensive range of commercial legal services to all UK public sector contracting bodies, to include central Government departments and their associated bodies including Devolved Administrations — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Wider Public Sector including Health and Education bodies, Local and Regional Government organisations, Emergency Services and Third Sector organisations,” the CCS said in its prior information notice.

“Presently, there are two commercial vehicle types being considered, a dynamic purchasing system, and/or a framework. The choice of commercial vehicle(s) will be decided after the results of in-depth market and customer engagement sessions currently being planned.

“The Scope of services provided by the vehicle(s) is envisaged to cover more than 35 ‘Legal Practice Sectors’ with subsets of more than 75 smaller ‘Practice Areas’.”

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.

Law firms may need to review approach to pricing and customer service, study finds

A new industry report suggests that many commercial law firms may need to rethink their approach to pricing and customer service, as a significant number of clients feel that the legal services they receive do not represent good value for money.

Researchers from Nisus Consulting quizzed some 800 corporate clients in relation to their experiences with solicitors and law firms.

Sadly, the survey unveiled that law firms only ‘met or exceeded client expectations’ in terms of value for money in around half (49 per cent) of cases.

The report identified the most common pricing strategies and habits which are leaving corporate clients dissatisfied or disappointed.

It found that charging by the hour, failing to stick to initial estimates and failing to keep clients regularly informed of changes to estimates and the reasons behind such changes were all leaving clients dismayed and “feeling that value [for money] is poor.”

The report raised concerns that some clients felt they were “paying through the nose” and that they were not convinced their law firm was “delivering real value” in exchange for the level of fees charged.

Tim Nightingale, Founder and Director at Nisus Consulting, suggested that solicitors ought to take a more hands-on approach with their clients, offering proactive “solutions to problems,” such as changes to estimates, where applicable.

He said: “It really doesn’t matter how well a firm is judged to perform on its professionalism or its offices, however new and shiny they are, understanding what’s important to clients in general, and individually, is really the game changer and what we all need to get our heads round because service matters to clients.

“Clients want to work with people they can get on with; people who can think strategically – who can see the bigger picture for the client company and how the legal advice works in that context.”

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

Figures suggest law firms are not making the most of apprenticeship vouchers

Almost half of businesses paying the apprenticeship levy are writing their payments off as tax, according to new figures – amid concerns that law firms are not reaping the advantages of extra training.

The Department for Education (DfE) revealed that just 10,500 eligible businesses are registered to receive apprenticeship vouchers, compared with the 19,150 paying the levy – with more than 200 of those operating in the legal sector.

The levy is designed to fund the Government’s pledge to create three million apprenticeships by 2020. Employers with a wage bill of £3 million or more each year are required to pay the levy – charged at 0.5 per cent of their annual pay bill.

All organisations have an apprenticeship levy allowance of £15,000 each year, meaning they only pay the levy on any amount over £3 million.

Joe Dromey, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, told the HR publication People Management that the low uptake suggested employers were not engaging with the levy as hoped.

“While these are early days, with the levy introduced just six months ago, these figures will be a cause for concern,” he said.

“They seem to validate concerns raised around the lack of awareness of the levy – even among firms paying it – and that many levy-paying employers will simply see it as a tax and write it off.”

Elizabeth Crowley, skills adviser at the CIPD, added: “In our view the Government needs to be doing more work to ensure employers are making a choice in not using the levy, instead of being unaware of it.

“It is equally important that if there is an underspend, the funds are ring-fenced and used for supporting employer training, as there is a danger it could simply go back into the Government’s coffer, and not be used to increase skills training and investment in the UK economy.”

A separate study, published by the British Chambers of Commerce earlier this month, found that one in four firms had no understanding of how the levy worked or how their company would respond.

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.

Green light for CMA to reform transparency in legal sector

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has given the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) the green light to proceed with plans to improve price transparency in the legal sector.

It said the CMA’s proposals “represent a sufficient starting point for the necessary reforms which will increase market transparency”.

In December last year, the CMA found that there was not enough information available on price and services to help those who need legal support to choose the best option.

It recommended a new requirement that providers display information on fees and associated costs, alongside the development of comparison sites to allow customers to compare providers in one place.

The LSB said the measures would ensure there is better information available for clients in relation to price, quality, redress, and regulation.

Commenting on the review, Neil Buckley, Chief Executive of the Legal Services Board, said: “We also highlight some areas where more work is needed by some regulators to address the challenges outlined by the CMA.

“These areas include understanding current levels of transparency, finding the right mix of mandatory requirements and voluntary guidance and enabling consumers to compare the quality of legal services as well as price.”

Rachel Merelie, Acting Executive Director for Markets and Mergers at the CMA, said: “You might not need a lawyer very often but when you do it will often be at a crucial point in your life – whether that’s buying a property, resolving a dispute or getting expert advice on financial and employment matters. So the transparency, affordability and accessibility shortcomings we have identified are a real concern.”

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.