This year really is flying by. I have just had my birthday.
After updating you previously on the excellent catch up I had with the Law Society CEO Paul Tennant on his visit to the south west last November, I had not expected to be back in touch with him quite so soon.
Sadly, this time it was in less happy circumstances.
I was, like many of you, shocked and saddened in January to hear the news and see the pictures of the substantial fire at Chancery Lane in London. I have emailed Paul Tennant and James Shepherd, our Law Society Relationship Management Executive, to send our best wishes and we are hoping that the building will be back to full use very soon.
As I write this report, preparations are in full swing for the 2020 DASLS Legal Awards & Dinner. As you know the Annual Dinner is being held again this year at Exeter Cathedral. The event is to take place on the 30th April 2020. After the success of last year, we are hoping that once again the event is sold out which would mean we will have around 480 people attending. If you have not done so already, please contact Llew Nicholls and the team at our Awards partners ‘Grow Marketing’ who have worked very hard alongside our very own Tony and Monique to achieve full sponsorship of this event.
You can contact Llew to book the remaining places by emailing Llew directly at Llew@growmarketinguk.com. There have been more nominations than ever before with more entries making the short list. Please do not miss this dazzling occasion.
You will all have received DASLS latest 2020 training courses programme. Tony Steiner and the team have worked hard to arrange these events. You will see that as members you get preferential rates and if appropriate reduced rates for multiple attendees from your firms. Please take advantage of these services as a proportion of the monies do go to support our Society’s broad continuing education offering.
If I do not see you individ...
The first big social event of the year was the annual DASLS Quiz which is the grand finale of the Challenge Cup. It is an event I thoroughly enjoy and I make no apology for making it a bit challenging.
This year did not disappoint there being just ½ point between first and second place and resulting in joint winners of the Challenge Cup. Congratulations to Ashfords and Michelmores both of whom knew that the study of birds’ eggs is Oology. The next Challenge Cup kicks off with the usual Skittles match in Dawlish when the magnificent Skittles Cup will be contested.
The latest meeting of the County Societies Group took place in February when we were guests of the SRA in Birmingham. DASLS Deputy Vice-President Adrian Richards and I attended. We were welcomed by their Chief Executive Paul Philip who set out some key messages around SRA activity emphasising their desire for light touch engagement with solicitors and good channels of communication. He said that the SRA was working well with The Law Society and was focused on creating an environment where solicitors could be innovative and use the latest in technology. AML is a key area of activity and following the appointment of the new Chair, Anna Bradley, they are working to provide better customer care. He also explained that until now the SRA had not taken any position on issues such as Access to Justice, Rule of Law and Advice Deserts. They were considering looking at, and taking a position on, one or two of these issues each year. There followed several presentations by senior staff at the SRA dealing with Enforcement Strategy and reporting concerns; Customer information – Transparency Rules and clickable logo.; the SQE and Anti-Money Laundering. Comprehensive slides were produced to accompany each presentation which I will forward together with my notes to any member who wishes to see them. Just email me —email@example.com. There followed an interesting tour of the building. SRA have around 600 ...
You may know that DASLS is fortunate to be twinned with Bilbao, Erlangen, Gdańsk, Leuven, Rennes and Verona. Such twinning arrangements underpin a sense that we belong to one community of values on the basis that these relationships are based on reciprocity. Each year, we meet to discuss and debate important legal issues of the day, whilst discovering the cultures and languages of our partners. 2020 is DASLS turn to host such an event, which will be rounded off with the Sunday Legal Service at Exeter Cathedral on 7 June 2020 and to which DASLS members are cordially invited!
The subject of our conference (on 5 June at County Hall in Exeter) will be around the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) in the sphere of human rights. Rather than understanding AI in terms of a terrifying post-apocalyptic vision of a world controlled by robots, AI features in our everyday lives from Alexa and smart home devices to controversial facial recognition technologies and even Uber! AI is built by lines of code called algorithms. Put simply, an algorithm is a step by step method of solving a problem and is commonly used for data processing and calculation. However, the use of automated data processing techniques in public and private sectors, especially by internet platforms and its impact on the exercise of human rights is somewhat of a hot topic.
When it comes to AI, there is a focus on the usage of huge datasets. AI bias means when an algorithm produces results that may be prejudiced due to erroneous assumptions in the machine learning process and the data used to train the algorithm by data scientists. Bias runs deep in humans and it can be unconscious in nature. AI systems are created by individuals who have their own unique experiences and blind spots all of which can lead to fundamentally biased systems. This issue is compounded by the fact that those responsible for AI (including its deployment and training) may not be representative of society. Accordingly, unfair...
New AML Regulations and the pursuit of the beneficial owner.
The new Money Laundering & Terrorist Finance (Amendment) Regulations 2019 which came into force on 10 January have modified a number of aspects of the 2017 AML Regulations, with which we have been complying for some time. However, many firms’ procedures hark back to the earlier days of the 2007 Regulations and have not been modified or updated much over recent years.
This article seeks to set out what the new Regulations in fact require, and the steps we should be taking in relevant cases.
It has been true for some time that the ultimate aim of all the regulatory rules is transparency – it has always been the case that the use of artificial structures such as trusts, companies, bearer shares, foundations and charities – whilst perfectly legal – have to some extent also benefitted from the extra anonymity they offer to the true owner and recipient of the funds and services we provide.
If we offer services to these types of entity, the Regulations require us to go some way to identifying the individuals who are actually benefitting from our services, and this entails uncovering the true ownership of the organisation.
Whilst this would be difficult in many instances – Cayman Island companies with bearer shares, for example – we must nevertheless attempt to get some assurances from the creators of the companies, accountants or registrars as to the ownership of the shares, and have some way of being notified of any change in ownership.
We also need to be aware of the PEP and Sanctions status of these individuals.
Further, for UK companies, the PSC Regulations 2016 impose an exactly similar obligation on the companies themselves to identify their beneficial owners and notify Companies House of any shareholder with 25% or more of the shares or exercising control over management of the business.
As one of the mediators on the Devon and Somerset Law Society panel of mediators I wanted to share my experience of the cases referred to us from the small claims pilot mediation scheme. We are currently referred cases from the county court at Exeter, Barnstaple, Torquay and Plymouth.
The idea of the scheme is to try to mediate cases that have been issued at court in the hope a resolution can be reached prior to a court hearing. This frees up court time making the process quicker and more cost effective for the parties involved.
Typical mediations are usually scheduled for a minimum of three hours with more complicated cases set for a whole day or more whereas the small claim mediations are set for one hour only.
I have not found the short time limit listed for these mediations to have a negative impact indeed it seems to focus the minds of all involved to start seriously looking at a possible settlement immediately. In my experience of previous mediations in my capacity either as mediator or legal advisor I have found that it is not until the mediation is nearing the end that serious negotiations take place and all efforts are made by the parties to reach a settlement. I remind both sides in a small claim mediation of the time restraints and that time is ticking by and psychologically it seems to take the parties to the same place as at the end of much longer mediations.
If a case settles at a small claims mediation, which they do more often than not, this avoids the case proceeding through the court process saving both time and money including court fees and legal costs. The settlement when reached is made and agreed by both parties and therefore the parties are in control of the resolution. Whereas a Judge by the very nature of court proceedings will make a finding on each point in the case for or against a party leaving the parties with no control over the result.
Overall the small claim mediation scheme is in my opinion advantageous to ...
Practitioners in Devon and Somerset, indeed across England and Wales, will be aware of HMCTS’s ambitious £1bn programme of court reform. Some have been involved in consultations, developing and testing new services and products; for others their work has already been impacted as new technology and modern ways of working are introduced.
Launched in September 2016, the programme is now almost at its half-way stage. We’ve already seen the roll out of several online services covering divorce, probate, civil money claims and social security appeals which have been used by well over 250,000 people. Two new services – immigration and asylum, and public family law – are currently being publicly tested.
Many in the region have been involved in the development of reform services in some capacity. Truro Combined Court, for example, is part of the national pilot in 12 family courts for the Citizens Advice family court domestic abuse support service, which launched in August 2019.
Our south western buildings
Some of your members, especially those who frequently work at Taunton Crown Court and Torquay & Newton Abbot County Court, may already be benefitting from the professional users’ court access scheme. This scheme is being rolled out in stages, across the region and nationwide. It allows legal professionals to avoid delays when being processed by security staff. Although registration for the national scheme has begun with the Bar Council, HMCTS is working with other legal associations who wish to participate and open the scheme for their members.
As part of our estate review process, which aims to improve the physical environment for all court users, Exeter Magistrates’ Court is closing and the work is moving to the Combined Court, half a mile away. To support this move, three new hearing rooms will be built, as well as increased cell capacity, witness and consultation facilities and a new cafe.
The move represents a significant ...
The Cook's and Hatchard's Law Prize is an award which recognises an individual who has achieved not only academic success but has also engaged in charitable initiatives which have raised the profile of the profession; supported junior lawyers and/or the wider community.
The Trustees recognise that the route to qualifying as a Solicitor is an ever changing process. The conventional approach of completing a Degree, undergoing the GDL/LPC and eventually sourcing a Training Contract has been supplemented by a series of alternative routes.
It is now increasingly common specifically in the case of smaller firms and/or Local Authorities for individuals to qualify as Solicitors through a more vocational route. For example, undergoing the conversion from CILEx. Whilst this is not your typical route to qualification, such individuals have nonetheless obtained considerable practical experience and have achieved 'Solicitor' status whilst having to combine study with work, often alongside family obligations. A challenging balance deserving recognition.
The Trustees are intent on ensuring that such individuals are not overlooked, especially in instances where candidates have come from backgrounds where they might have needed to work from school as opposed to being able to attend University and pursue academia.
If you are aware of an individual within Somerset who has achieved the finely tuned balance of academic success whilst also promoting the value of the profession through charitable work or some other means which has benefitted the wider community, then please send full details of the individual whom you are nominating together with the reasons for your nomination to DASLS Administrator, Monique Bertoni, Aston Court, Pynes Hill, Exeter EX2 5AZ by 30 June 2020, for consideration by the Trustees.
Nominations can also be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Candidates for this year’s Prize must have been admitted to...
The new SRA Standard and Regulations came into effect on 25 November 2019, replacing the previous SRA Handbook.
Within these latest regulations are the new set of SRA Accounts Rules 2019 which the legal sector is still getting to grips with some of the changes.
In this brief article we look at two of the most topical areas being raised by law firms and their COFAs.
Notification of disbursements
One of the leading questions raised has been regarding compliance with the new rule 4.3, which states that if a firm wishes to transfer money from the client bank account from funds held on account for a specific client to cover costs, the client or paying party must first be sent a bill or other written notification of these costs, before the transfer is made.
As ‘costs’ comprise of fees and disbursements, this is in contrast to the old requirements as it is now necessary to notify the client if the firm wants to take funds to cover disbursements.
Firms are now finding themselves in the position of having to choose between the additional administrative inconvenience of having to notify the clients every time they wish to transfer funds in the interim for disbursement, or face potential cash flow burdens. This will come down to a matter of policy, and will differ from firm to firm. It is helpful to highlight it has been mentioned that an email to the client will qualify as written notification to meet this requirement.
A further topical question has been in relation to disbursements that have been included on a bill, but not yet paid by the firm. Rule 4.3 refers to ‘costs incurred’, which, on the face of it, implies that funds can be transferred to cover disbursements that have been incurred but not yet paid, as long as the client has been notified. This has been queried with the regulators where anticipated disbursements had been included on a bill – could the firm transfer client funds to cover these which would be a fundam...
Devon & Somerset Law Society welcome DictateNow as new outsourcing partner
Devon & Somerset Law Society is pleased to announce it has teamed up with leading legal outsourcing provider DictateNow.
The firm, which was the first dictation provider for law firms in the UK, was formed almost 20 years ago, and now works with hundreds of law firms across the country.
“It truly is an honour to work closely with Devon & Somerset Law Society and we are confident we will provide its members with real value through this partnership,” said Maxine Park, who co-founded the firm, and is also a qualified solicitor.
Since its inception in Hertfordshire, at the start of the 21st century, DictateNow has become a leading provider of confidential digital dictation, transcription and business services that helps law firms streamline otherwise labour-intensive processes, reduce overheads, and improve client service.
“Since we started back in the early 2000s we have also expanded to include dealing with overseas clients, and offer other business services as well, with copy typing, proof reading and diary management amongst them,” added Maxine.
The business, which works with hundreds of legal secretaries and experienced administrators all UK based, working around the clock seven days a week, only came into being after Maxine, who was a senior solicitor, was asked by her employer to find a firm that could do the transcription for lawyers. She couldn’t find anyone suitable in the country, so she worked on a plan to fill this gap, with software developer husband Garry. She soon left her job in law, and the reputation of DictateNow gradually spread amongst law firms.
“It is fair to say the needs of law firms have changed greatly in recent years and like all progressive businesses, we are committed to adapting to stay at the forefront. We will never rest on our laurels,” added Maxine.
The business is covered by IS223...
Business Continuity Planning
With England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warning a Covid-19 epidemic in the UK is looking “likely”, and with home working being a key part of the government's 'Battle Plan' to combat the virus, the prospect of fee earners working remotely may become a reality rather than a trend.
With most UK businesses, including law firms carrying out contingency planning in the event of a widespread outbreak we are being called upon by our clients to provide additional support should it be required.
The ability for fee earners to work from home is far easier than for support staff. Fee earners are able to use mobile phones to continue communicating with clients, receiving emails as well as dictating. Internal support staff aren't geared up to work remotely in the same way.
DictateNow has been providing outsourced business support services to law firms since 2002. Our legal secretaries can continue to support fee earners with their typing requirements with fee earners sending dictations via our apps and our typists returning the work as an attachment to an email, or directly into the client's case or document management system.
We take business continuity seriously, achieving and maintaining the ISO 22301 as a testament to the importance we put on being able to support our clients - whatever the circumstances.
Our management, operations, typists, receptionists and support teams all have the ability to work remotely but with the added security of working on our UK based servers.
Under no circumstances would we want to profit from COVID-19. We provide free apps for iPhone and Android mobile phones, a free registration process for disaster recovery and our service is low cost, pay-as-you-go and with no ongoing commitment.
We sincerely hope COVID-19 isn't as serious as some of the newspaper headlines have said it will be, but a little forward planning ...
Last month, Storm Ciara and Dennis brought devastation across the country, including the South West. We saw multiple flood warnings and alerts issued across Devon and Somerset, with many main routes made impassable, and rail passengers stranded as flooding stopped services reaching Exeter and Plymouth (see link at footnote 1).
Due to the increasing concern about flood risk for property owners, the Law Society has recently updated its Flood Risk practice note – the first revision in four years. The practice note provides guidance relating to information sources that better help clients understand the risk that flooding may pose, as well as offer steps that can be taken with regards to insurance and searches.
The practice note includes information relating to the types of flood risks that have the potential to affect property owners. For example, a property doesn’t have to be located next to a river for it to be located in a high risk zone. Flooding from surface water or groundwater is increasingly common and something that should always be researched in advance of a house purchase.
If flooding is a concern, it is important to investigate whether appropriate insurance cover can be arranged before a property transaction completes, to satisfy the risk criteria of the client’s mortgage lender.
On top of this, the Law Society has also published an updated TA6 Property Information Form and guidance notes. In particular, four areas of property information have been updated relating to Flood Risk, as well Japanese Knotweed, Radon and Septic Tanks. The update provides additional information about a property to prospective buyers and is designed to provide greater transparency.
Yet, while there is a plethora of guidance and support out there, unfortunately, recent research conducted by YouGov for Landmark Information has shown that the majority of consumers in Great Britain are still not checking the flood risk of their homes, despi...
As we come to the end of being the Devon and Somerset Law Society’s Charity of the Year 2019/20 we reflect on some of the achievements made throughout the year:
Thriving Workplace Project
In 2019 we launched our Thriving Workplace project which focuses on training workplaces in awareness and first aid for mental health. After a successful ‘soft launch’ at the SW Business EXPO, we have been working closely with local organisations to train staff members in spotting the signs and symptoms of poor mental health and starting meaningful conversations. The feedback we have received has been fantastic and we hope that this training not only helps organisations, but the wider communities in which we live.
As part of the project, we have also developed a course which we have delivered in custody at HMP Dartmoor, providing a forum for custodians to discuss strategies to manage wellbeing whilst in prison. Again we have had a brilliant response to the training delivered and are looking to roll out mental health first aid courses across the prison to promote conversations and support whilst in custody and for rehabilitation.
The impact this training has had so far has been excellent, helping individuals and organisations recognise the importance of good wellbeing and supporting colleagues and communities with mental health. With the stretch on services for mental health this is a fundamental project to support each other to good mental health and wellbeing.
Torbay Peer Support Project
The aim of this project is to support people over 50 years of age who are struggling with their mental health to engage with their community. We provide engagement visits to help people feel more relaxed when they first meet us and then encourage them to join one of our courses or groups.
Within the year the project has grown through our group of supportive volunteers, there are now 10 volunteers and they have all been people that we had ori...
As the new committee members of the Devon & Somerset Junior Lawyers' Division are starting this year’s culminating activities for our Junior Lawyers' Division members, our National Committee representative has attended the National JLD Meeting held at The Law Society office in London on the 1st of February 2020.
A lot of issues were discussed and tackled and it is important to share the outcome of the discussions. To highlight these, the following are the main points of discussion:-
There will be another consultation with the SRA regarding the SQE as it has been discussed that there are a large number of unresolved issues. The Legal Services Board has opened a call for evidence in relation to continuing competence. Everyone is encouraged to contact us and we would welcome any comments and inputs.
The Law Society has updated its Wellbeing Guidance in the workplace in October 2019 as well as a recently issued guide for firms to re-label work social events to divert the initial perception away from alcohol. This is to promote and encourage individuals to attend events with less pressure to consume alcohol in order to “fit in”. The DSJLD have been in full support of this and our events are being tailored to match this initiative.
In addition, The Law Society is currently developing a new Learning Management System and in the next coming months, The Law Society will launch a beta program for this which will give selected firms a free testing with this program. This will initially be provided free of charge with precedents etc available to firms.
The JLD event season 2020 kicked off in fine style with a groovy disco at I-Bounce in Exeter. With dimmed lights and funky disco beats, the JLD contingent were relishing the opportunity to hone their dancing skills ahead of this year’s highly anticipated JLD Summer Ball!
It is fair to say some members took to the bouncing b...
Some think there is no place for emotion in the law and believe emotions interfere with rational thinking. In fact there is a huge body of scientific evidence which proves cognition and emotion are intertwined. If we consider that emotions affect your actions, decision-making, reasoning, thought processes and judgement, we can clearly see the relevance of emotion in the law.
Often lawyers enter the workplace without the emotional competencies needed to meet the demands of an evolving profession. Emotional competency is about how we understand and handle our emotions, as well as identifying and interpreting emotional responses around us.
Providing legal professionals with resources to enable them to understand and develop key emotional competencies such as emotional self-awareness, self-reflection and better strategies for emotional self-regulation is one way to equip them more effectively for practice, enhance their wellbeing and potentially reduce levels of stress, anxiety and depression.
LawCare and academics at The Open University and the University of Sheffield have developed a new free online resource on emotional competency and professional resilience for the legal community.
The interactive resource, called Fit for Law, is part of an on-going project to promote psychologically and emotionally healthier ways of working within law and was developed based on evidence from focus groups with legal professionals across the UK and Ireland. The course takes 2-4 hours in total to complete but is broken down into smaller sections, and includes videos from legal professionals discussing wellbeing issues as well as a range of interactive activities.
The goal is to foster enhanced wellbeing, to support legal professionals to not just survive, but to also thrive, within a challenging work environment.
In addition to providing resources aimed at individual practitioners, the resources we are developing will include a tool kit for employers, to ...