President’s Weekly Law Society update 19/11/2018
Your weekly Law Society update
As the professional body for solicitors, every week the Law Society is working hard to influence the legal and regulatory environment on behalf of our profession and to promote solicitors at home and abroad. We support practice excellence, are an informed source of legal sector news and support members at every stage of their career.
Here are some highlights from our work last week.
Influencing on behalf of the profession and promoting the profession
The Law Society’s media profile this week:
The Law Society’s ‘no-deal’ Brexit papers giving advice on potential rule changes affecting business disputes, data and family law were covered in the Gazette, New Law Journal, Family Law Week & Australasian Lawyer.
Wills and equity committee chair Ian Bond was on BBC Moneybox talking about the government’s decision to introduce banded probate fees, despite intense opposition the last time they tried. You can listen here. The story begins at 10:34. There were also reports in the Times (£) plus more coverage of probate fee hikes in the Guardian.
Victims forced to sign gagging clauses could be given a voice as Parliament launches a new inquiry into the use of non-disclosure agreements following the scandal surrounding Sir Philip Green. Max Winthrop, chair of the Law Society’s Employment Law Committee, said: “The evidence that you give to a select committee is covered by Parliamentary privilege in the same way that the floor of the House of Commons is covered.” Report in the Telegraph (£). More coverage of the inquiry in the Gazette.
Urgent changes in the law are needed to provide certainty to workers and employees, the Law Society has said, following another ruling on ‘self-employed contractors’ involving taxi firm Addison Lee. I said: “The law has not kept pace with changes in how people are employed and the rapid growth of the gig economy.” Report in the Gazette plus more coverage in the Telegraph (£) & 130 regional newspapers including: Basildon Recorder, Westmorland Gazette, Essex County Standard, Wiltshire Gazette & Herald, Craven Herald, Dorset Echo, Campaign Series, Bromsgrove Advertiser, Evesham Journal, Dudley News, South Wales Argus, Northwich Guardian, This Is Wiltshire, Warrington Guardian, This Is Hampshire, The Northern Echo, Bolton News, Wiltshire Business online & Yeovil Express
The FT (£) did a major report on blockchain technology. The data stored on blockchain cannot be changed and some believe this could lead to fewer legal disputes. However, I warned there could still be litigation. “It may lead to fewer disputes or to different types of disputes – perhaps ones about expectations of a contract rather than the execution of a contract.”
Consultation responses and parliamentary activity, influencing on behalf of the profession:
Solicitors’ Qualifying Exam
The SRA announced the implementation date for SQE has been delayed to September 2021 and released information indicating costs will be between £3,000 and £4,500. At the Westminster Policy Forum, the SRA also discussed possible total training costs of £7,500-£10,500 – a projection based on QLTS costs and private providers, although other models will be available.
We met with the Legal Ombudsman Service and a Danish delegation to discuss the representative body and regulatory systems for complaints management.
SRA Handbook review
The Legal Services Board has granted the SRA’s Handbook application in full. Our press release outlines our concerns about the decisions. See Media above for coverage. We are working to create Practice Notes and other guidance for the profession in preparation for supporting members in complying with the new rules.
We held a follow up meeting with the Criminal Bar Association discussing future reform.
HMCTS has confirmed it will provide a stakeholder engagement plan by November.
Technology and Law Policy Commission Evidence Session – algorithms in the justice system
The Law Society’s Technology and Law Policy Commission held its second evidence session on Monday.
The commission, which I lead along with co-commissioners Sofia Olhede (UCL), Sylvie Delacroix (University of Birmingham) and guest commissioner William Blair, examined the use of algorithms in the justice system, the impacts on the rule of law, implications for data rights, and whether our human rights framework is fit for purpose. Witnesses included Marion Oswald, Adrian Weller, Lord Tim Clement-Jones and Karen Yeung.
The Ministry of Justice announced a revised probate fee increase on 5th November. The announcement was unexpected as the fee increase was not mentioned in the Budget the previous week. We will continue to engage with government over this change.
Law Commission consultation on the Suspicious Activity Reporting (SARs) regime
We responded to the Law Commission’s consultation asking how the UK’s SARs regime could be improved. Our response said that many of the proposals would only tinker around the edges of the problems with the regime. We recommended the introduction of a reasonable excuse defense for failure to report specific offences on a ‘de-scoped list’ of offences, supported by statutory guidance on reasonable excuses.
We published leaflets on AML checks and responsibilities for firms to download.
We responded to a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government consultation on making sure that social housing provides safe and secure homes.
On Wednesday evening, the European Commission published the full draft legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement which had been approved by Cabinet on Wednesday night. A summary of the draft legal text for lawyers will be available shortly. The UK Government also published the political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
Women in Leadership in Law
The first three men’s roundtables took place this week with senior male leaders from inhouse and private practice. There were 25 attendees and the events were hosted by Simon Davis and Stephen Denyer. Firms included: Prudential, Irwin Mitchell, Lewis Silkin, Debevoise, Freeths, Mayer Brown, Goodman Derrick, Cooley, Ashurst, Shearman & Sterling, Standard Chartered Bank, NatWest, Nestle, Charles Russell Speechlys, Dentons, Legal Aid Agency, Wikborg Rein, Gibson Dunn, Macfarlanes.
Write to the Lord Chancellor on the Early Advice Campaign
The government is currently preparing its response as part of its review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and we are actively pushing our online campaign tool which allows you to tell the lord chancellor why he needs to bring back legal aid for early advice. It only takes 2 minutes to join in: https://lawsociety.e-activist.com/page/26570/action/1
On Thursday, I spoke on a panel at an International Bar Association event on building the law firm of the future.
Our influencing work internationally:
This week, I was delighted to open the fifth Russian Law Week conference in London. The conference was organised by the Law Society’s international team and the Bar Council to promote legal links, best practices and opportunities between legal practitioners from the UK and Russia. As part of the conference. Simon Davis participated in a panel discussion on ‘Law firms in Russia: Innovations, challenges and opportunities for Russian and international law firms’.
On Monday, EU Policy Adviser Rita Giannini chaired an ERA (Academy of European Law) event on: Post-Brexit Cooperation in Criminal Justice. On Tuesday, she also delivered the closing speech in the ERA conference on Criminal Justice, on the topic “Achieving a close and functional security deal between the EU and the UK – avoiding the ‘cliff-edge’ solution”.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Stephen Denyer and Helena Raulus met with partners at Bird & Bird, Freshfields, Norton Rose and Eversheds based in Brussels.
Helena Raulus also spoke at the EPC Brexit Forum on the implications of a no deal Brexit.
Supporting members at every stage of their career
This week I signed a new Memorandum of Understanding. The Law Society is working with the JAC D&I working group to deliver a positive action initiative to support more lawyers from under represented groups who have aspirations of becoming judges. The initiative, Pre application judicial education (PAJE) is due to launch early next year.
We’ve now published ‘Your professional body – the value of your membership’ aligned to the member offer. It clearly shows how we influence for impact and promote the profession. It also showcases the services we offer to support practice excellence, keep members up to date, and as a career companion. All new members will receive a copy in the post. A simple summary of our member offer is also available.
Get involved in the 2019 Solicitor Brand Campaign – we need your help!
We’ll be promoting the solicitor profession throughout 2019 to consumers, businesses and managers, raising its profile and endorsing the use of solicitors above other sources of legal advice.
Our campaign will develop understanding of the vital role solicitors play and drive more people to the Law Society public pages (to help consumers understand their legal needs) and our Find a Solicitor website (which helps you attract new clients).
Over the last two years our campaign has featured real solicitors. We also want the 2019 campaign to feature contented clients who have positive things to say about their experience of using a solicitor.
We’ll also feature solicitors in some of the photography and in video case studies. The content we create will promote the solicitor profession overall, so won’t include individual solicitor details. However, we can create alternative versions for members who get involved so you can use them in your own marketing materials. Read on if you’re interested in being involved.
Some of our upcoming events are:
London Law Fair 2018: Promoting access to a diverse legal profession – Morning session, 28 November
The London Law Fair is the only national recruitment event specifically designed to encourage a more diverse range of entrants into the legal sector.
In view of increasing competition for judicial appointments, this course will equip delegates with the skills to help enhance your application and interview performance. This training course has been developed specifically for solicitor applicants.
Supporting practice excellence
2019 will be 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed, which finally paved the way for women to practise law – an important milestone in the slow progress towards the rights of women to fulfil their potential and gain ownership over their lives and futures.
Insights into the latest on patent settlement agreements following the reference from the Tribunal to the Court of Justice in the paroxetine case (GSK and others); and the Tribunal’s judgment on the CMA’s first ever stand-alone unfair pricing decision in the pharmaceutical sector (Pfizer/ Flynn – phenytoin).
The Advocacy and the Vulnerable Training was developed in conjunction with the Bar to help solicitor advocates and barristers strike the balance between advancing their client’s case effectively in court whilst ensuring vulnerable witnesses are not subjected to undue stress. We anticipate that the Ministry of Justice will make this training compulsory for all publicly-funded advocates before they can act in serious sexual offences cases.