The Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) has published for consultation a revised version of its draft rules. The new rules reduce the timeframe it had originally proposed for clients to bring a complaint, in response to concerns from solicitors. Under the new plans, complainants will have to notify the OLC of their complaint within one year of the act or omission in question, rather than the six years originally proposed. Alternatively, they can make the complaint one year after the point at which they should reasonably have known there was a cause for complaint, rather than three years, as initially put forward. The OLC may extend the time limits in ‘exceptional circumstances’. Solicitors had raised concerns that the longer timeframes would present practical difficulties and evidence would no longer be available. However, the new proposal will still double the six-month time limits currently in place at the Legal Complaints Service. Law firms will be liable to pay a flat fee to the OLC for the resolution of complaints, unless it is satisfied not only that the complaint has been resolved in favour of the lawyer, but also that the lawyer took all reasonable steps to resolve the complaint. The OLC said that, while solicitors opposed this second requirement, it is set in statute and cannot be dropped. The amount of the fee will be subject to a separate consultation. The OLC is expected to replace the current Legal Complaints Service next year, though it is not yet clear if it will take over existing complaints.
Lawyer issues libel claim against ‘solicitorsfromhell’ website A north-east solicitor yesterday settled his libel claim against the owner of a website that blacklists solicitors and law firms. Scott Eason, principal at Eason Law, had instructed libel lawyers Carter-Ruck to bring a claim for damages of between £50,000 and £100,000 and obtain a High Court injunction against Rick Kordowski, who runs solicitorsfromhell.co.uk. Under the terms of a High Court order, Eason agreed to drop his claim for damages and costs if Kordowski removed allegations against Eason and Eason Law from the internet; undertook never again to publish allegations referring to Eason or his firm; and will write to Eason to apologise. Carter-Ruck said in a statement yesterday: ‘Scott Eason has today settled his libel action against Rick Kordowski, owner of the website Solicitors from Hell. Mr Kordowski has removed the false and defamatory allegations from his website, agreed not to publish them again and apologised to Mr Eason.’ Eason said in a statement released by Carter-Ruck yesterday: ‘I am happy and relieved that this case has now settled. I felt very strongly about what was published about me and I could not allow the allegations to remain on the internet. ‘I initially wrote to Mr Kordowski myself asking for the allegations to be taken down, but he refused to do this without payment. As a matter of principle, I refused to pay Mr Kordowski any money and he left me with no option but to issue libel proceedings against him. ‘I am glad that Mr Kordowski has accepted the allegations are false, taken them down from his website and apologised to me.’ Kordowski said today that he will not delete complaints about ‘Premium Players’ unless the person who made the original post or a High Court judge asks him to do so. Complainants do not have to pay to post on the site, but if they feel strongly about their story, they can pay £25 to have the firm listed as a ‘Premium Player,’ as long as their posting contains information that is useful to the public, Kordowski said. If listed as a premium player, a solicitor or firm cannot pay to have the posting removed, he added. Kordowski’s apology to Eason will read: ‘I would like to apologise for allowing defamatory allegations about you made by a third party to be posted on my website solicitorsfromhell.co.uk. I did not know at the time of publication that the allegations were false, but I now understand that they are. On that basis, they should never have been published. ‘I have taken the allegations down from my website and agreed not to republish anything about you or your firm again. I understand that, as I have no funds, you have kindly agreed to waive your entitlement to damages and costs. ‘I am sorry for the embarrassment and distress the allegations have caused you to suffer.’ See also Website for blacklisted solicitors plans expansion
‘The sun is out… the sky is blue… there’s not a cloud… to spoil the view… but it’s raining… (doodle doodle doom)… raining in my heart.’You may recognise the lyrics from a song. I’m referencing it in relation to how all you frustrated lawyers out there may be feeling right now. Whether you’re frustrated as hell about trying to get into the profession, or whether you’re in it and desperately depressed and you want to get the hell out… but feel stuck… this article’s for you. For some of you, it may feel like a tornado is whipping around inside that legal beagle heart of yours. I’ve just read in the Sunday Times (business section) last weekend that we’re in for a double dip as far as the economy and recession is concerned. And, the double-dip pessimist mongers say that ‘looking forward the wider economic picture is not so bright’. I’ve also been chatting and meeting with tomorrow’s lawyers and partners in law firms over the past couple of months and law student, associate, senior associate and barrister clients. It’s partly why I’ve been a wee bit quiet on the blog post scene of late – my apologies; some of you may of course be thinking ‘thank God’ – my ‘anonymous’ commentator fan club in particular. Bottom line… doom and gloom. The feeling is that there will be no boom for many years to come. I’ve probably made you feel like jumping off the proverbial crumbling ivory tower roof (or equivalent). Jeronimoooooooooo! But hey, don’t jump. Ever the eternal optimist I reckon there’s still hope. We just have to find the strength and courage to persevere. For a start, we shouldn’t believe everything we read or hear. So, you can choose to stop reading this article right now if you’re thinking I’m talking a load of blond bimbo utter tosh (or about to). I believe there is hope because we have choice. We have options. For example, if you can’t get through the ‘no training contract here for you’ brick wall, are struggling to duck around it by applying for a paralegal and/or legal executive position and having no success there either because law firms are hoarding any cash they have and are reluctant to take on more staff as the global economy faces continued uncertainty, then here’s an idea: go and do something else with your life. For now, at least. While the economy and legal world is struggling and desperately trying to find its feet again and get itself on an even keel. Reality check – there’s an obvious over supply of law students, an obvious under supply of training contracts available (and/or paralegal positions available) and a pool of highly qualified and skilled ‘give us a job’ lawyers already in the market who were ‘let go’ in 2008/9/10, ever hopeful of reclaiming a rowing position on the good ship legal enterprise. Taking another path may well mean less risk of racking up debt. After all, there is no guarantee you will make it as a lawyer and have a legal career at the end of it; some things may well be beyond your control. The saving grace is that there’s always the chance you can come to the law later in life (as many lawyers have, successfully). You may well find (like most people) that you will have more than one career during your working life. There’s a whole range of exciting career paths for an intelligent, hard-working, ambitious young person such as you. Remember, you are one of the top 5% in the world (as an educated budding professional). Even in a recession there are industries and niches doing rather well. Go seek and ye shall find… because it just may turn out that the dream you once believed as being the holy grail might actually turn out to be a paper cup. If you don’t believe me then go and talk to all those frustrated lawyers who remain in the industry and all those who have since left (out of choice). Whether you’re a paralegal, legal executive, assistant solicitor, associate solicitor, a senior associate, attorney, lawyer, partner or barrister you may well have already reached the point, mindset and realisation which Jim Rohn speaks of: ‘Let others lead small lives, but not you. Let others argue over small things, but not you. Let others cry over small hurts, but not you. Let others leave their future in someone else’s hands, but not you.’ Being unhappy in your role/job/career is akin to being unhappy in your marriage. When you’ve reached the point that there’s more ‘bad’ than ‘good’ happening then you have to do something about it (for everyone’s sake). So, if you want out now because in your case the holy grail you may have once searched for and found has actually turned into a paper cup, then how about these ideas: 1) Become a virtual lawyer – if you’ve got the network, contacts, collaborative relationships, wherewithal, personal marketing skills, personal sales skills… and guts, then go do it; or 2) Be a portfolio worker (be a lawyer and something else at the same time), for example, Tim Kevan: barrister (non-practising at present), the Guardian law blogger, writer, author of Law and Disorder; Marci Alboher: lawyer, journalist, author and writing coach; Denise Nurse: lawyer and weather presenter (Sky News); Shireen Smith: lawyer, marketing & website business owner (sources: Director magazine October 2009 and NatWest Sense magazine 2009). It might continue to rain in your heart as far as your lawyering role is concerned but the sunny joy the other roles bestow might actually be worth the juggling act; or 3) Go start a business – hook up with an entrepreneur who will complement your skills and needs your connections, experience and level head. Together you could be a dynamic duo – the Batman & Robin of the new legal and business dynamic (although I suspect there could be a battle as to who drives the bat-mobile). 4) There are plenty of entrepreneurs desperate to have esteemed professionals on board, who, dare I say it, already have finance lined up – their own or somebody else’s – but need someone of your calibre and ability to add value to the team. I have also read and hear of late that there are also plenty of cash rich entrepreneurs (business angels) who would rather put their money behind a sound new business venture than invest it elsewhere in the present economic climate, as there’s a chance that the yield will provide a much better ROI than sticking it in a bank or dabbling in the plum duck stock markets. In my experience (as both a lawyer and an entrepreneur) some entrepreneurs have got all the ideas and whizzy gig oomph but no clue as to how to turn it into a viable business and make it work. They need you! It’s worth remembering that great companies were born out of previous recessions – such as LexisNexis, Microsoft and Dell. And many lawyers who left the profession have made a great success of their new ventures (and careers). Take a look at Philip Vecht. He’s made an absolute fortune hanging advertisements in toilets. Reported as ‘the lawyer who cleaned up with washroom adverts’ in the Sunday Times in January this year, Vecht began his career as a commercial lawyer at Nabarros. After two years he got out of the profession and co-founded Admedia. In Vecht’s own words ‘it was terrifying’. Surprisingly he wasn’t referring to making the leap of faith into his new venture… it was in reference to the toils and challenges of making the business work and if he failed he ‘thought (he) would have to go back to being a lawyer’. Turnover for 2010 is expected to be £7.5m. I believe the world could probably do with less lawyers lawyering and more lawyers working in and on a business. You never know, this way ahead might actually just help the world get out of this long tail recession. There’s already a plethora of lawyers in the world and a technological, digital, consumer sovereignty trend that will inevitably see the need, want and/or desire for even less. Problems on the job (or search for a legal job) could lead you to begin a search for something better. But it may well not be the time for impulsive action. Only you will know what’s right for you…where and when. When all is said and done, if it’s raining in your heart then you could do something about it. You have a choice. You could be master of your own mutiny. Of course, you will have to conduct a 360 degree personal talent, strengths, skills, knowledge, experience, fiscal, confidence and guts reality check. And an honest one at that. You’d be a fool not to. After all, if you’re going to walk the plank and jump into a stormy sea then you’d better have all the bits ‘n’ bobs in the life raft to ensure your survival. Otherwise, you just might drown! Do you have a plan B, C or D? I ask because I’ve always lived my life as such that I hope for the best but plan for the worst. ‘It pays to plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark’ (anon). One final thought. There may well be a market and a viable business model in the concept of ‘Frustrated Lawyers R Us.’ I wonder who of you reading this article will actually act on this idea. If you do, please do let me know. I’d be delighted to hear about and witness your success first hand. In fact, I’d be honoured to swash-buckle alongside you in your personal mutiny Tally-ho! Chrissie Lightfoot is author of The Naked Lawyer eBook – a blueprint in how to get more sales.http://entrepreneurlawyer.co.uk/products-services/ebook For more In Business blogs go to http://lawgazette.co.uk/blogs/inbusiness
Linda Lee is president of the Law Society Despite the challenges from licensed conveyancers, it is believed that between 85% and 90% of the conveyancing market are solicitors. However, it is hard to tell how accurate this figure is. Of only 600,000-800,000 transactions last year (which includes remortgages), the largest Land Registry users include Enact and My Home Move. Somewhere between 3,000 and 4,500 solicitors’ firms are dependent on conveyancing to remain solvent. Despite the perceived simplicity of this work, a large percentage of complaints and claims against solicitors relate to conveyancing matters. The combination of the downturn in the housing market and economic uncertainty mean that many solicitors who depend on conveyancing for their livelihoods face an uncertain future. The time has come for the profession to make sure that the excellent service and professional guarantee offered by solicitors is recognised by the profession and the public. That is why the Law Society launched our residential conveyancing scheme (CQS) earlier this year. We want to do what we can to make sure that solicitors who are committed to practising excellence and high professional standards stand out in a crowded market. The idea of a scheme was initiated by the Law Society Property Section Executive Committee which foresaw the difficult circumstances many firms now find themselves in. They also recognised the need to protect the current market share from competitors by establishing a quality mark that could be marketed to the public as a badge of excellence. Crucially, for practitioners, the CQS will also help with the problem experienced by some smaller firms relating to mortgage lenders and professional indemnity insurers, which have identified smaller firms as being too great a risk to use or protect. The CQS will help address that by making it possible for both lenders and insurers to know that they are dealing with high-quality solicitors at minimal cost and difficulty to themselves. For a variety of reasons, licensed conveyancers are currently seen as less of a risk in the context of mortgage fraud. The success of CQS through membership of the scheme may offer the only prospect for some firms to remain in the market. The Solicitors Regulation Authority, lenders and insurers have all been consulted during the development of this scheme. I am pleased to say that the CQS has support from the Council of Mortgage Lenders, the Building Societies Association, the Association of British Insurers and Nationwide. A number of key decisions were taken in formulating the scheme. First, the scheme would be run for the benefit of our members and their clients. It will only be open to firms of solicitors, not licensed conveyancers. The second was that the cost of being a member of the scheme would be kept low, and considerable capital investment would be required by the Law Society. This decision was approved by Law Society Council members, many of whom have no contact with the conveyancing market, but have a desire to support other sections of their profession. However, we cannot compromise the integrity of the scheme. Entry to the scheme will test the responsibility of the principals of the firm who apply for membership and their controls over the organisation. You will have to sign up for initial training that includes partners and staff involved in the conveyancing work, whether with legal documents, accounts, or with clients. The forms require detailed information and the standards are high, but I am confident that the majority of firms can meet those standards. Membership of the scheme will prove to be a positive asset, not only as a marketing tool but as an opportunity to reflect on and hone your own practice. At the heart of the scheme will be the new Law Society transaction protocol. This will reinforce consistency of standards throughout the conveyancing process. Work will continue to develop new standards and processes for the benefit of solicitors and their clients. Over time, it is hoped that real improvements to the conveyancing process can be achieved. The process demands interaction between members and relies on cooperation with other professionals as well as clients; the development work will take time and can best be tackled from within the new CQS environment. Assessment for entry to the scheme is based on key risk criteria. There will be ongoing monitoring based on performance against standards. There will also be an element of enforcement to maintain the reputation of the scheme. Membership will be subject to annual renewal. It is designed to be rigorous. We need to make sure that there is no doubt about the integrity and the high standards that CQS accreditation demonstrates for residential conveyancing practices. There is no reason why firms which are committed to achieving and maintaining high standards cannot achieve accreditation. Firms and individuals that achieve membership will create a trusted conveyancing community, which will go a long way to resolving many of the challenges that currently undermine the reputation of many good firms. The profession has shown a real interest in the benefits that this scheme can bring. Since we launched the scheme, we have received 113 applications from firms, ranging from sole practitioners to multi-partnership firms. Over 125 enquiries have been received as a result of our webinar, and we continue to receive a steady stream of telephone calls and enquiries. We hope to accredit our first legal firm shortly. I have made promoting the ‘solicitor brand’ a key theme of my presidency. I am committed to communicating the professional and personal integrity, skill and knowledge that solicitors possess. It is my hope that the CQS will go a long way towards helping to do that. I would encourage solicitors to join the Law Society scheme in large numbers, so that we will be able to help ensure solicitors retain their central role and independence in the conveyancing market. The benefits of the scheme to members are well worth the modest costs of application and the effort that is required. I hope that this article addresses the concerns of the small number of correspondents who have written to the editor of this magazine. As someone who had to be accredited to practise in my chosen field, I understand the reluctance to submit to an assessment process, but I hope that you will do so not just for the personal satisfaction of succeeding but also to meet the need for the profession to work together in this specialist area of work.
I read with interest your leader. You are right to point out that reducing and, in some cases, removing public funding from legal services may create a pro bono default position. That said, the educational and social justice agendas involved in law schools having a commitment to pro bono work are too important to be dismissed, even though the political significance remains as you suggest. On 15 and 16 June, a workshop will be held at the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham at which law schools, private legal practice and the not-for-profit sector will come together to discuss how law school pro bono activity can best be used to improve access to justice in the context of legal aid cuts. The government has also been invited to contribute. Your readers would be most welcome to attend (although numbers are limited). Richard Grimes, Director of clinical programmes, York Law School, University of York
Proposals for an EU-wide approach to collective redress exposed deep divisions among delegates gathered in Luxembourg for last week’s plenary session of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE). Collective redress, sometimes called group litigation or class action, was the subject of one of a series of debates on issues as diverse as the EU’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, EU contract law, defendants’ rights, electronic signatures and the Single Market Act. The debate on an EU-wide system for collective redress saw delegations from most of the CCBE’s 31 member countries agree that ‘language barriers and distances’ would make such a system impossible to implement effectively. They called instead for ‘efficient enforcement’ of consumer laws allied to minimal changes to national procedures. UK delegation leader Ruthven Gemmell said: ‘The time is not right for a one-size-fits-all pan-European collective procedure. We need to build on a process.’ In contrast, the French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Luxembourg delegations came out in favour of the EU setting up a collective redress ‘mechanism’, provided it respected ‘certain prerequisites and principles in order to fit into the European legal culture’. Both sides acknowledged the importance of access to justice, but noted that consumer organisations were likely to support an EU-wide compensation scheme, whereas businesses would fear ‘abusive litigation’. Both sides also agreed that lawyers should be involved in all collective redress actions. An earlier roundtable event considered the EU’s forthcoming accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, whereby the EU is to grant power to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to review the compatibility of its actions under the terms of the convention. Join our LinkedIn Human Rights sub-group Previously, only member states were subject to such scrutiny by the European court. Keynote speakers also discussed what impact accession might have on the relationship between Strasbourg’s ECtHR and Luxembourg’s Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) – formerly the European Court of Justice. Christiaan Timmermans, a CJEU judge until June 2010, said accession was necessary to integrate the EU into the 47- member-state, pan-European system of human rights protection afforded by the Council of Europe through the ECtHR. He added that it would ‘put an end to the present, anomalous situation where someone who considers his human rights infringed by an EU act must address his complaint before the Strasbourg court against a member state – or even all member states – because he cannot directly address the EU’. The convention has been a ‘source of inspiration’ for the Luxembourg court since the early 1970s, Timmermans added. Jean-Marc Sauve, vice-president of the French Conseil d’Etat, France’s highest court for cases involving public administration, said that ‘difficulties can and do arise between the two courts’, but that ‘calm examination in the light of settled case law’ should resolve any conflict. ‘No complicated mechanism will be needed to replace intelligent cooperation between judges in the two courts,’ said Sauve. Estonian ECtHR judge Julia Laffranque noted that nine years passed between her country’s application for accession to the EU and its actual accession. She said: ‘Now it’s my opportunity to anticipate how long the EU itself takes to accede to the convention. ‘The process should be as fast and simple as possible.’ Delegates then moved to the CJEU, where its president, Vassilios Skouris, started the plenary session by welcoming the CCBE to the court. It was a time of change, he said, with the court set to streamline the way it dealt with complex and time-consuming competition cases. It will also recruit more judges to help reduce its backlog of cases, he added. CCBE secretary general Jonathan Goldsmith updated delegates on a CCBE project, funded by the European Commission (EC), to prepare factsheets on the rights of defendants in criminal proceedings in all 27 member states of the EU. Goldsmith said that these have now been completed in ‘plain, unambiguous language that can easily be understood by the layperson’ and will be available ‘in the near future’ on the EU’s e-Justice portal. They cover: obtaining legal advice; a defendant’s rights before, during and after trial; and road traffic offences.Goldsmith also gave a status report on the CCBE’s Find-A-Lawyer (FAL) project, which aims to create an online tool for lawyers and consumers to search for and find suitable legal representation in every member state of the EU. Goldsmith said that the EC is to build the FAL search engine on the e-Justice portal by the middle of next year, and urged non-participating bars and law societies to join the project straight away. Friday’s session concluded with a guided tour of the CJEU, with delegates visiting courtrooms, the judges’ deliberation chamber (where the 27 judges, one from each member state, hold weekly meetings) and common areas housing some of the court’s art collection. On Saturday, European commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship Viviane Reding told the plenary session that she will launch new legislation in July to facilitate cross-border debt recovery through better enforcement. She said: ‘It will be a new self-standing European procedure available to citizens and companies in addition to existing national procedures.’ She added that her programme for 2011 would also include initiatives on family and criminal law, the European Arrest Warrant and victims of crime.
The Information Commissioner’s Office has confirmed that it is looking into a complaint concerning information obtained by private detectives instructed by justice minister Jonathan Djanogly. However, a spokeswoman for the ICO said press reports that the minister had been reported to the commission, or that he is being investigated, were not correct. Last year it was revealed that Djanogly had paid private detectives to investigate aides and colleagues in his Huntingdon constituency, to find out the source of media reports about his parliamentary expenses. Labour MP John Mann made a complaint to the ICO in relation to the information obtained by the private detectives. The ICO spokeswoman said: ‘We are looking into a complaint that we have received. We need to establish whether the information that was obtained was information of a personal nature.’ She said that if no personal information was obtained by the private detectives, there will have been no breach of the Data Protection Act and nothing further for the ICO to look into. Djanogly said: ‘It is not true to state that the Information Commissioner’s Office have started an official investigation into this matter.’ He said it was not clear what the relevance of the ICO could be in this case. Djanogly said: ‘As I said when the issue first arose last year, I would never have condoned anything unlawful and dishonest in the investigations, and the investigators have assured me that all of their inquiries were carried out in an entirely lawful manner.’ When the fact that he had hired private investigators was reported in the press, Djanogly said: ‘Following malicious allegations made against me in newspapers last year, I felt I had to find out who was spreading these untrue stories about me. ‘I instructed a firm of private investigators to try to find out the source of these stories because I was extremely upset that my private family life had been invaded.’ He added: ‘I am sorry if some people judge that I made a mistake. With hindsight I can see that I may have overreacted, but I was being subjected to very malicious, anonymous attacks on my family.’
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Stay at the forefront of thought leadership with news and analysis from award-winning journalists. Enjoy company features, CEO interviews, architectural reviews, technical project know-how and the latest innovations.Limited access to building.co.ukBreaking industry news as it happensBreaking, daily and weekly e-newsletters Get your free guest access SIGN UP TODAY Subscribe now for unlimited access To continue enjoying Building.co.uk, sign up for free guest accessExisting subscriber? LOGIN Subscribe to Building today and you will benefit from:Unlimited access to all stories including expert analysis and comment from industry leadersOur league tables, cost models and economics dataOur online archive of over 10,000 articlesBuilding magazine digital editionsBuilding magazine print editionsPrinted/digital supplementsSubscribe now for unlimited access.View our subscription options and join our community