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Middlesex Law Society News Updates


12th March 2021
There have been significant developments taking shape over recent months and more are expected as we start to be released from the pattern of working from home. I will touch upon a few of the current topics:

Qualification
You may have read that the new SQE is proceeding and it was recently confirmed that QWE – ‘qualifying work experience’ – will require certification of time spent working on the part of employers but no assessment of capability is required. This is bold change signals SRA confidence in the sufficiency of their new Part 1 and Part 2 final examinations. The solicitors’ market may expect a tide of new entrants who could provide limited legal services as freelancers where they cannot find employment. They will need to help to adjust to the reality of practice. One only has to read the SRA’s published list of enforcement decisions each month with fines up to £2000 to recognise the number of young respondents who appear to be poorly trained and badly supervised. Recent cases coming to the disciplinary tribunal show that some have little understanding of professional ethics and the boundaries to professional conduct. It would be seriously damaging for the reputation of the profession if SRA admit a host of new solicitors only for this to be followed by a steady flow of strikings off at the tribunal a few years later. Unfortunately, during the interval between the misconduct and enforcement there is risk of harm to members of the public.

SRA Enforcement
SRA have recently published a report on its new enforcement policy which highlights the focus of risk and warnings and is an interesting read – www.sra.org.uk/globalassets/documents/ sra/research/upholding-professional-standards.

Transparency Regulation
It has also published a one year review of its transparency rules which indicates its ongoing monitoring of firm’s web sites and enforcement in this area – www.sra.org.uk/globalassets/ documents/sra/research In addition the legal press has recently highlighted cases where fines have been imposed for breaches of the current transparency regulations. There will be more to come as both the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the Legal Services Board (LSB) have indicated the move to the introduction of more requirements specifically in the area of quality indicators and rating by digital comparison tools. There is no agreed definition of what constitutes ‘quality’ and more uncertainty will follow in this new area as SRA roll out new regulations to fully implement the CMA 2016 and 2020 recommendations after its three month review – www.gov.uk/ cma-cases/review-of-the-legal-services-market-study-inengland- and-wales.

Anti-Money Laundering
On 20 January we received the latest Legal Sector Affinity Group guidance relating to the money laundering regulations of 2017 and 2019 – www.lawsociety.org.uk/en/topics/antimoney- laundering/anti-money-laundering-guidance.

This comprises a virtual rewrite of the 2018 guidance and is over 200 pages!

It is worth bearing in mind that where there is an alleged infringement – ‘You may be asked by your regulatory body to justify a decision to deviate from this guidance.’ It is essential that you review your policies controls and procedures as well as carry out an annual audit. Although the policy objectives may be supported you may consider the unlimited scope of the legislation and the expectations of the legal profession to be extremely burdensome. The current regulations do present a blunt instrument where one size is taken to fit all.

LSB Plan
The recent Legal Services Board consultation closed on 5 February – www.legalservicesboard.org.uk/news/lsb-invitescontributions- to-a-new-strategy-for-the-legal-service-sector. The Law Society response was debated at a meeting on 27 January and is here.

There is some difficulty in aligning with the LSB attraction to spending money on technology rather than confining itself to the areas which are firmly within its terms of reference – overseeing performance of the SRA and other legal regulators. There is lack of consistency between the 9 regulators the LSB supervises and perhaps more could be done to reinforce public confidence and understanding of where legal regulation applies. It seems questionable whether the work proposed in relation to unregulated organisations is designed to reinforce the importance of regulated providers rather than increase the LSB sphere of influence.

The LSB wish to continue to put much effort into exhorting lawyers to solve the issue of ‘unmet legal need’. They come late to this party as they have done little about ‘access to justice’ in the face of reducing legal aid since 2006 and the Carter inspired reforms – https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/ government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/ file/272392/6993.pdf

Their solution is to increase transparency requirements thus following the views of the CMA. This compounds the fundamental confusion of ‘increased competition’ (which reduces price) and ‘availability of service’. There is a failure to recognise that those who have no money to pay for legal services will not be able to find help for free from the market. There is a belief that greater transparency will magically produce affordable services. Would anyone who has any views they would like to discuss please contact me.

COVID-19 and Recession
In addition to the many COVID-19 related issues continuing into 2021 the profession seems headed for another tough year with a high cost to renewal of professional indemnity insurance. Renewal is the passport to practise and despite an increase of between 25-35% in premiums in September 2020 and difficulties for some conveyancing firms in finding cover, very few firms have actually closed. There are a number of reasons for this and many suggest that risk exposure has been increased with firms reducing top up cover or taking out loans that will need to be repaid. It is possible that a wave of closures will come later in the recession and follow the end of lockdown. Meanwhile the insurers are indicating that pressures remain, and so premiums are unlikely to fall over the next year.

The Membership Ballot
Recently some of you, albeit not many, voted in the ballots issued by the Law Society about changes to the future composition of the Council. The results mean that over the country there is a reduction in the number of geographic seats meaning that constituencies will increase in size. There will be a corresponding increase in specialist practice seats and seat for groups. The precise electorates and voting lists for elections for these have now to be worked out.

London is effectively being divided into 4 regions and most of our existing members will fall within the new North West area as the constituencies of Central and South Middlesex and North Middlesex will cease to exist.

When it comes to the next council elections for the new seat in 2022, no person will be entitled to stand for election if they have served for more than 12 years. As I will not be standing in any event, if anyone is interested in the work of Council and learning about how the governance works I am more than happy to provide the background information you may need in order to assist your efforts to become an effective member.


Michael Garson michael.garson@perpro.org


25th September 2020

Dear Middlesex Law Society member,

I am asking you to vote at the Law Society’s AGM to oppose:

1.            Larger law society constituencies/fewer local council members/their replacement by specific interest members; and

2.            The automatic retirement of Council members after 12 years.

Middlesex Law Society thinks (i) the changes are ill-considered and (ii) inappropriate at this time when no one can predict the future.

MLS believes its members are better represented by a local member who has all their interests at heart.  Most members do not fit easily into a box of specific interests and most important professional issues do not affect a single sector or interest.  

Council members who would be required to retire automatically are knowledgeable and committed to the Law Society. The loss of their experience would be a significant blow, particularly now.  

The AGM is on 14 October 2020 at 14.30  To attend and vote, email now to:

AGM2020@lawsociety.org.uk

You should receive a simple registration form to complete with your name, contact details, and SRA number.

Full notice of the AGM agenda and motions is at:

https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/topics/news-articles/annual-general-meeting-notice-october-2020


Michael Garson michael.garson@perpro.org



25th May 2020

After two long months in lockdown the goal posts are again moving. The changes are important for us personally and in our work for clients. The law society coronavirus page is a really good and up-to-date resource and will carry more updates as the next stage of furlough emerges.  It is recommended.

Over the past weeks letters have been written to MPs and ministers concerning the situation on rates and grants for firms who have

missed out and also some of those self employed.


From last week the property  market has been tentatively reopened amidst some frenzy at the short notice;  the latest TLS guidance is inviable and  may have to become more permanent given the uncertainty that is ongoing and the risk of recurring spikes and lockdown.


If members have any problems or questions please let me know so they can be fed into the current submissions.


On Tuesday 26 May the Society is holding its first online meeting open to members and I will report back after this experiment. Anyone who wishes to join future meetings please let us know.


Please view the MLS Coping with Covid 19 slideshow presentation


Michael Garson michael.garson@perpro.org



20th April
The London & South East Relationship Management team
Business continuity toolkit
 
We’ve produced a Business Continuity toolkit that law firms and practitioners can consider when looking at how to strengthen their business in these challenging times. It includes:
 

 
Read more
here and easily share our post on LinkedIn
 


6th April
I hope all members and their families and colleagues are keeping healthy and safe in the extraordinary times. Whether you find time passing quickly or slowly it certainly seems an age that we have been in lockdown.  A wide variety of concerns are well outside the range of normal living.  It is barely 4 weeks since the coronavirus held the front page of the news and only three weeks since the Prime Minister held his first press conference.  


The Middlesex Law Society is open to all and we welcome contact with comments experiences or advice as we can publish on our web site and provide support for all our colleagues. We will be communicating shortly online through the issue of the next issue of the Bill of Middlesex and we again ask for volunteer contributions from authors editors or those who just want to learn.


The Law Society has worked well to respond to the crisis and publish relevant and solid guidance across the wide range of the activities of members of the profession.  Lobbying with government continues in areas where rushed and imperfect relief schemes are not assisting members of our profession. If you know of situations that have not been addressed please let me know.


The four issues identified by the Law Society as priorities issues are

• Safety issues affecting our members when advising or representing clients in courts, prisons, police stations, and health and social care settings

• Support for members’ businesses where members are anticipating a drop in income and/or cashflow difficulties as a result of Covid-19

• Relaxation or amendment of rules with which members will find it difficult or impossible to comply whilst complying with Government safety advice

• the need to uphold the rule of law as emergency measures are brought in for the public protection.


Is there anything else you think we should add to our influencing priorities? And what further support and guidance do you think would be useful?


I would like to ask for thoughts or concerns about the impact of regulation and to start the discussion suggest a few questions to gather feedback - some but not all aimed at COLPs and COFAs.


1. Do you think the markets will return to normal in three months, six months a year or longer


2. Do you anticipate that there are new skills that you will need in the recovery phase?


3. Do you think funding working capital from partners, investors or banks will be a problem


4. In what areas have you come across new risks from home working


5. Where your employment has not been furloughed do you think that work-life balance has been affected -and how?


6. Does current SRA regulation impede or support changes necessary for operations when some employees are furloughed?


7. Does remote working increase litigation risk from business or consumer clients or both?


8. Does remote home working heighten risk of regulatory breach eg GDPR. AML?



The Law Society has also adapted to virtual rather than physical meetings and the use of modern technology tools is being widely taken up. That is a course also open to our Society in conducting its future meetings and events -possibly even this year’s AGM now under discussion.

I look forward to receiving views and feedback and please remember that as your council member I am here for anyone who has specific or personal professional concerns where I may be able to connect you with suitable help and  assistance.  

In closing I send you greetings for a happy Easter and hopefully a return to more normal conditions.


Michael Garson michael.garson@perpro.org



27th March

Government advice on home moving during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/government-advice-on-home-moving-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak



26th March

Law Society Update Corona Virus https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/advice/articles/coronavirus-advice-and-updates/



20 March 2020 – Coronavirus Covid-19

Council Member Newsletter, Central South Middlesex


These are worrying times for everyone and along with other members of our profession are rallying to support their families and their communities and each other. First and foremost my hope is that everyone is staying safe and well and enabling their families to do so too. In doing this we all contribute to the greater good to protect the vulnerable and society at large.


The needs and personal safety of employees, clients and suppliers all require separate consideration.  In relation to professional work and whether you are a student or trainee training, newly qualified as a solicitor or a business owner I refer you to information available from the Law Society at https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/advice/articles/coronavirus-advice-and-updates/


This reflects work that is continuing on behalf of all members on a national scale and at a national level.  Committee members have speedily given expert thought fast to situations that are presenting to conveyancers and those engaged in Will writing. The answers are not straightforward as these are not normal times.

Like most of you my email is swamped with messages offering news and help in these unprecedented troubles.  These do not always match personal circumstances.  As your council member and on the behalf of your local law society I offer my help to support and to signpost you to guidance that may be available.  


There is much anxiety surrounding current uncertainty but we can nonetheless look forward to the period that will follow when the problems of business disruption will be addressed in new ways of working.  Technology is a key tool and its time has now come.  Having worked and survived at least seven previous recessions though not even price controls and the 3 day working week was like this I can say that the experience does give some reassurance. However this time the impact is severe and different.  Most important of all is to remember that recovery does always happen and brings change.


Working practices have changed quickly in each downturn and tested ways of working have been re-assessed.  Habits change of necessity and are refined into new and hopefully smarter way of working.  And, of course, new opportunities emerge as the business environment changes.  Each downturn does have a different recovery rate but we cans start the search now for the green shoots of recovery.

In recent weeks many have been living hand to mouth as the reality of the new and unforeseen situation has unfolded.  There is a challenge to make use of the time we have as ‘business as ‘usual’ has been brought a slowdown or a complete halt.  Both short and long-term prospects and priorities need to be addressed and I would suggest a 90 day plan offers the opportunity to balance between day-to-day needs and preparation for what may follow.   


Every practitioner and business has the opportunity to react positively and to stay in touch with colleagues, clients and suppliers and to explore ways of securing future efficiency and profitability.


Let me know if you have a query and I will answer if I can and other wise try to signpost you in the direction of someone who can.

Michael Garson michael.garson@perpro.org



13th March 2020

CQS, COVID 19 and residential conveyancing transactions.


We have had many questions from members about possible impacts of COVID 19 on conveyancing transactions.


Issues raised have included:-


What everyone wants to understand and ideally control is, of course, who bears the risk in various situations.


Before exchange

There is unlikely to be any drafting solution which would be appropriate to every case.


You should review your existing contracts and test what the position would be in certain situations on the basis of that contract.


It may be that your client may wish you to negotiate new provisions to suit particular circumstances but we do not consider that bespoke clauses are necessary or desirable as standard. The reverse may be true.


Once you have assessed the contract you are proposing to use you will be inn a better position to establish if any additional provisions are required or desirable in the particular circumstances of the transaction that is, or may be, affected. There is a difference, of course, between transactions where COVID19 is a presence and all the other situations where it is a possibility.


We don’t think that we can assess the position sufficiently to attempt to provide any suitable clauses for such a wide range of potential situations.


Exchanging contracts on a “business-as-usual” basis may be preferable to using new provisions but you will need to make this assessment.


After exchange

In relation to contracts which have been exchanged, if completion doesn’t take place due to the virus, the party not completing will be in default and the contract provisions relating to default will apply unless the non-defaulting party takes a ‘good faith’ view.


If the transaction forms part of a chain of transactions it may not be possible to take such a view without incurring a penalty.


Generally

By focusing on the best interests of your client, the public interest using pragmatism and common sense it is hoped that this can be dealt with without too much disruption to the usual process. If chains are affected, the aim would be to provide the same solution and let the risk fall in the same place across the chain.


Inevitably there will be a few chains where one or more of the parties in a chain insists on taking a stand to gain an unfair advantage.


As the Protocol says

Act with courtesy and co-operate with third parties. Maintain high standards of courtesy and deal with others in a fair and honest manner

Ensure proper internal and external arrangements for file management have been communicated to your client in relation to holiday and sickness absence



4th March MLS Mooting Competition

Where UWL St Mary Road Ealing W5

When Wednesday 4 March, 6-8pm in the mock court.


Local Law Societies read about Birmingham’s views  see https://emailcc.com/rv/ff005ae8767e94775d0598798446aaf0f7c7afed?utm_source=professional_update&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=PU-02%2f28%2f2020



1st March Professional Insurance

Closure of SIF to new claims


Article in next bill meanwhile see https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/advice/articles/closure-of-the-sif/



28th February Criminal Justice

Be prepared for justice to fall apart - solicitors issue stark warning to government


The criminal legal aid system is doomed to spiral into ever greater crisis unless the Ministry of Justice’s plans are urgently rethought, the Law Society of England and Wales warned today.


The Law Society had hoped that the interim proposals from the criminal legal aid review – the ‘accelerated items’ – would provide some urgent relief from the deepening crisis in the criminal legal aid profession.


Today the Law Society rejected any suggestion they are adequate to match the scale of the problem.


Law Society president Simon Davis said: “We have warned time and again that the very existence of criminal defence practitioners is under threat. Unless the package is adjusted to address the depth and urgency of this crisis, then extinction may be firmly on the horizon.


“There are increasingly large areas of the country where there are no defence solicitors available. The very notion of British justice is in jeopardy – with victims left in limbo and the accused potentially deprived of a fair trial.


“Not only will the shortage of practitioners lead to injustice; it is economically unsound. Defence lawyers help ensure the justice system runs efficiently – and in doing so, save the taxpayer money.”


The closure of Carter Moore this month – the latest in a growing number of significant firms to shut its doors – is further evidence that the profession cannot wait. Our heatmap shows how the numbers of criminal duty solicitors are diminishing.


The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has recently received an interim increase of 10% for prosecutors – worth up to £85m - with a promise of annual reviews. In contrast, the defence has not received an increase in 25 years. In real terms, these measures do not even restore the position for litigators at the time the review was announced in 2018.


Simon Davis continued: “The offer on the table from the government is woefully inadequate. It cannot hope to provide a solution.


“Fewer new solicitors are choosing to enter criminal law as opting for other areas of legal practice is simply more sustainable as a career choice.


“Meanwhile, a recent boost in funding for prosecutors means that many defence lawyers are taking jobs with the Crown Prosecution Service.


“This further diminishes the pool of those capable and able to provide for the defence; a crucial ingredient to ensure that our adversarial system of justice acquits the innocent and convicts the guilty.


“We have demonstrated the urgent need for greater action. The MoJ must overhaul its proposals to reflect the scale and speed of action that is required.


“Firms are withdrawing and collapsing as we speak - in greater numbers than ever before. This may only be an interim plan, pending the full review into the sustainability of the system, but investment is needed now - not in a year’s time.


“The government has an opportunity to pull us back from the brink by improving this package. I hope they choose to take it.”


1st Feb Change at LeO

Office of Legal Complaints sets out case for new investment and Law Society responds see https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/policy-campaigns/consultation-responses/the-office-of-legal-complaints-corporate-strategy-202023-law-society-response/