Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What is continuing competence?

Continuing competence replaces the mandatory CPD scheme for solicitors with a new system of continuing competence that is concerned, not just with CPD requirements, but with ensuring that the entities regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), and the solicitors employed by them, deliver competent legal services to the public.

Continuing competence represents a seismic shift in the training landscape for solicitors. The key difference is that, rather than simply attending a series of legal update courses each year so as to tick a box, solicitors will need to consider their learning needs and plan their learning activity. The previous prescriptive requirement of 16 hours worth of CPD certificates alone will no longer be enough to prove compliance.
Hand in hand with this new approach, the SRA has abolished the distinction between “accredited” and “unaccredited” training and no longer authorise individual training providers. The net result is that solicitors will now benefit from a broader choice of activities that can satisfy their learning requirements. Whilst the SRA admits that accreditation was never a kitemark of quality, individual solicitors will now be responsible for ensuring that the training a provider in the new deregulated environment is credible.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Is the SRA about to create a 'regulatory sandbox'?

Earlier this week (9th November) the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) unveiled a new initiative to support legal services firms that want to innovate and grow their business in creative ways.

The service is primarily there to assist those firms looking at a new ways of serving clients or have an idea but are not sure whether regulation could stop it getting off the ground.

The service - there is not much meat on the bones in terms of what the SRA are offering - will be of particular interest to firms looking at legal technologies such as those being built by Lexsure. We are living through a massive technological revolution, a significant law tech wave which is bringing us all sorts of new ways to innovate and get closer to customers of legal services.

The FCA , who usually blaze a trail that the SRA follow, have already set out their plans for a “Regulatory Sandbox”- a policy first announced in the summer Budget in May.

The proposed FCA sandbox is no different than a sandbox built for a child to play. By providing a sandbox to a child one simulates the environment of a real playground (in other words an isolated controlled environment) but with restrictions on what a child can do. A regulatory sandbox will use these principles in the legally defined parameters of legal services, ensuring the protection of consumers and accordance with regulatory requirements .

Monday, July 20, 2015

Is Noise-induced Hearing Loss the New Whiplash?

According to the Telegraph last week the insurance sector is demanding tighter regulations for workers claiming compensation for noise-induced hearing loss, after the number of claims almost trebled in the past three years.
The Telegraph revealed that in excess of 70,000 people filed hearing claims last year surpassing the record levels seen in the 1990s, when the insurance industry agreed to pay out to certain industrial workers. Since then, health and safety rules have curtailed dangerous levels of workplace noise, yet claims have soared in recent years, the ABI said, adding that 70pc of noise-induced hearing losses claims were unsuccessful.
Recent reforms introduced in 2013 capped the fees that personal injury lawyers could charge when pursuing road traffic accident claims. Insurers have complained that whiplash compensation claims continue to put pressure on their costs, which make up about half of the claim expenses for car cover.
Aviva recently pointed out that for every £1 it was paying out in successfull noise-induced hearing loss claims, it was paying £5 in legal fees.
However, specialists involved in pursuing such cases dispute that personal injury lawyers have simply jumped from chasing fees in whiplash cases to noise claims.
“It’s important to remember that deafness is a disability with a significant impact on the ability to communicate,” said Bridget Collier, a solicitor who sits on the executive board of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers. “These claims only succeed when negligence is proven. It’s far from straightforward to win them. It’s not an area that you can just dabble in.”

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Money laundering: Council endorses agreement with EP

The Council on 10 February 2015 approved an agreement with the European Parliament on strengthened rules to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing.
The directive and regulation will strengthen EU rules against money laundering and ensure consistency with the approach followed at international level. The draft regulation deals more specifically with information accompanying transfers of funds.
International recommendations
The texts implement recommendations by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which is considered a global reference for rules against money laundering and terrorist financing. On some issues, the new EU rules expand on the FATF's requirements and provide additional safeguards.
The strengthened rules reflect the need for the EU to adapt its legislation to take account of the development of technology and other means at the disposal of criminals. The main elements are:
  • extension of the directive's scope, introducing requirements for a greater number of traders. This is achieved by reducing from €15 000 to €10 000 the cash payment threshold for the inclusion of traders in goods, and also including providers of gambling services
  • application of a risk-based approach, using evidence-based decision making, to better target risks. The provision of guidance by the European supervisory authorities
  • tighter rules on customer due diligence. Obliged entities such as banks are required to take enhanced measures where the risks are greater, and can take simplified measures where risks are demonstrated to be smaller

Beneficial ownership 
The package includes specific provisions on the beneficial ownership of companies. Information on beneficial ownership will be stored in a central register, accessible to competent authorities, financial intelligence units and obliged entities such as banks. The agreed text also enables persons who can demonstrate a legitimate interest to access the following stored information: 
month and year of birth
country of residence
nature and approximate extent of the beneficial interest held
Member states that so wish may use a public register. As for trusts, the central registration of beneficial ownership information will be used where the trust generates consequences as regards taxation. 
For gambling services posing higher risks, the agreed text requires service providers to conduct due diligence for transactions of €2000 or more. In proven low-risk circumstances, member states will be allowed to exempt certain gambling services from some or all requirements, in strictly limited and justified circumstances. Such exemptions will be subject to a specific risk assessment. Casinos will not benefit from exemptions. 
As concerns sanctions, the text provides for a maximum pecuniary fine of at least twice the amount of the benefit derived from the breach or at least €1 million. For breaches involving credit or financial institutions, it provides for: 
a maximum pecuniary sanction of at least €5 million or 10% of the total annual turnover in the case of a legal person;
a maximum pecuniary sanction of at least €5 million in the case of a natural person.
Next steps
Agreement with the European Parliament was reached on 16 December 2014. The Council's approval of that outcome paves the way for adoption of the package at second reading.
Member states will have two years to transpose the directive into national law. The regulation will be directly applicable.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Using risk reduction software to save law firms "tens of thousands of pounds"

Legal risk software house Lexsure and AmTrust Europe Limited, an ‘A’ rated insurance company, have signed a groundbreaking agreement that for the first time links the use of risk mitigation software with lower expenditure on professional indemnity (PI) premiums for law firms, a move that could be worth tens of thousands of pounds for some firms.

Professional indemnity premiums are a great concern for law firms, as, particularly for smaller firms, they can constitute one of the largest costs to the business aside from salaries. Furthermore, a practice that is refused PI cover can be forced to go out of business, a fate that befell some firms in England and Wales last year.

Now, for the first time, law firms can evidence their lower risk profile for conveyancing transactions by using Lexsure's COMPLETIONmonitor software, an online checklist, tailor-made for conveyancers to reduce and eliminate errors and omissions.

COMPLETIONmonitor has previously been recognised as a valuable risk mitigation tool but AmTrust have now taken an innovative step and will reward firms that reduce their risk profile by using COMPLETIONmonitor in the conveyancing process. Firms who insure with AmTrust can expect a per case savings on their PI renewals for each case completed with the software. Even for small firms with active conveyancing practices, this is likely to result in a saving of thousands of pounds. 

Russell Newell, Head of Professional Indemnity at AmTrust Europe, said ‘We appreciate that the cost of PI insurance premiums has a great impact on law firms, particularly for firms that do a lot of conveyancing, due to the frequency and size of claims in that field. We believe it is right and fair to offer a financial reward to firms that empirically demonstrate risk mitigation by using COMPLETIONmonitor'.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

List of 136 Closed Firms Presents a Ripe Opportunity For Fraudsters

One of the predictable consequences of the SRA listing the firms that were closed recently was that fraudsters could take advantage of the situation.

Within a few days of the the SRA list being published the SRA received information that a member of the public has received emails falsely claiming to be from Christopher Anderson of Andersons Solicitors. The emails relate to an unclaimed inheritance from a previously unknown relative. The real Anderson solicitors closed on the 29th December. The firm was on the list on 136 firms.

The fraudulent emails describe Christopher Anderson as "sole legal counsel" and give the email address chris@anderslaw.co.uk or christopher@anderslaw.co.uk, telephone number +44 7924 551 313 / (0) 7924 551 313 and the address Bosewell Cottage, 19 South End, Croydon, CR0 1BE. The address matches the address of the former genuine firm.

The SRA does authorise and regulate an individual called Christopher Anderson. However, the SRA has been informed that the genuine solicitor and former genuine firm have no knowledge of or involvement in sending out these emails relating to obtaining the benefit of an unclaimed inheritance from a previously unknown relative, and no connection with the email addresses chris@anderslaw.co.uk and christopher@anderslaw.co.uk.

Solicitors on Tenterhooks for News on the Llloyds Conveyancing Panel Portal

Last November the CML announced that the new "Lender Exchange" was set to launch in the first quarter of 2014. The Lender Exchange is the technology platform for the Lloyds Conveyancing Panel Portal.

Members of the Law Society were contacted late last years putting them on notice of the new portal. The letter states firms need not take any immediate action but that further information would be provided in early 2014 by various lenders who would mandate the use of the conveyancing panel portal.
Well early 2014 has been and gone and there is an early silence.
Faced with a potential credibility challenge to CQS Des Hudson advised solicitors that he is continuing to challenge the CML and the Decision First process in the strongest terms. He is also liaising with the Law Societies of Scotland and Northern Ireland who share our concerns for their members who will also be adversely impacted.
The new panel management facility has two stated objectives – to minimise the costs and administrative burden on conveyancing solicitors responding to regular duplicate information requests from multiple lenders and to help lenders minimise fraud and negligence through robust due diligence (although it is not yet clear how this second element is to be achieved).

The panel software will give conveyancing firms throughout the UK (not just England and wales) an easy way to submit and update information to lenders about their conveyancing practice through a, secure interface, saving them time and duplication of effort in meeting the terms of their lender panel membership.

Lenders such as Lloyds, in turn, will be able to access information to enable them to assess the continued suitability of a firm on the Lloyds Conveyancing panel, depending on their own individual requirements.