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.
You will have seen my e-mail to all members last week updating them on the breadth of or work in response to the issues they have raised with us directly and that we have sought their input on through our surveys. I will not duplicate all of that here. We had excellent survey response rates set out below.
- 10% of small firms – over 700 responses
- 48 of the biggest 50 firms
- 78 of the biggest 250 firms
Keeping business afloat
We have made it abundantly clear that there is a serious risk of imminent legal aid sectoral collapse. We have made progress in improving cash flows for legal aid practitioners but have been pressing the MoJ for urgent measures to be put in place to avoid firms going to the wall. We continue to make proposals to the Chancellor for the improvement of the support package in a way more relevant to the solicitor’s profession, including those who receive payments by way of dividends.
Members have told us that technology is an issue, from remote hearings to working with clients remotely. We have therefore brought together cyber advice and support from a podcast to tips and guides. This is in addition to the business contiunuity toolkit we published last week
SBA The Solicitors' Charity has developed a unique COVID-19 Personal Hardship Fund to support solicitors who find themselves in personal hardship caused by the pandemic. The charity has committed to initial funding of £1,000,000. The fund will help solicitors that find themselves financially in need due to COVID-19. Full details on the fund and how to apply can be found on the charity's website. Those of you who are in a position to contribute to this important charity, please do what you can.
Engagement with the SDT and LeO
The Law Society has been regularly engaging with both the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) and the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) since the beginning of the COVID 19 crisis. We have exchanged constructive feedback to ensure members receive timely information and support. On 30 March 2020 the SDT confirmed they were in a position to facilitate remote hearings and has now issued a Practice Direction on remote hearings.
We have also published information, reviewed by LeO, to help members deal with difficulties arising from the crisis in relation to first-tier complaints, complaints already with LeO and complaints from prospective clients on the COVID 19 Information for Members page. LeO has now issued its own Guidance to law firms around its approach to complaints during the COVID 19 Crisis. It says that it will take a ‘flexible and common-sense approach’ over the coming months. Regarding its own service, it says it is currently able to maintain a ‘reasonable’ level of service and will, where possible, continue to progress complaints.
Keeping safe and well
The profession strives to keep the courts open, while safe for all court users to attend. Alongside the Bar Council and Criminal Bar Association, we have joined a working party set up by the judiciary which will consider ways of starting jury trials as soon as that is safe .The working party will report to the Lord Chief Justice through its Chair, the High Court Judge Mr Justice Edis.
A system of remote advice to prisoners is under trial. We will keep you updated as this progresses.
We also continue to flag with HMCTS issues with court hygiene and distancing where these are not being resolved locally.
We have also published a useful map showing which courts are open across England and Wales.
The senior judiciary has put out guidance on the use of remote technology in family and civil hearings:
Working with government
Our strong links with government departments and ministers mean that while we do not have all of the answers to your questions and issues ourselves, we are working with or lobbying government departments, regulators and others to provide them. We will keep you updated through all of our channels as we get the clarity we are seeking.
You can see our latest influencing work here. These pages will be regularly updated.
The Brussels Office participated through the British Chamber of Commerce EU and Belgium in meetings with Lord Kinnoull, chair of EU Committee, House of Lords, and Hilary Benn, MP, chair of the Commons committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union. In these meetings, the Brussels Office was asked to give views about the FTAs and services as part of the BritCham Brussels delegation
We have been in the media this week to promote the role and value of the profession in difficult times
The BBC, Mirror, the Kent and Sussex Courier and 16 others reported on difficulties making wills during the Covid-19 outbreak and cite our conversations with government on relaxing wills regulations.
The Gazette covered the Law Society’s work so far to lobby the government on behalf of the profession during the Covid-19 crisis.
Bloomberg reported that government lockdowns aimed at containing the spread of the virus have forced even top law firms to rein in their finances. I was quoted: “The story is very similar across the world because lawyers are no different. They are providing a service to clients and when they cannot provide that service, they find that law firms suffer.”
The Ministry of Justice changed the evidence requirements for domestic abuse victims to qualify for legal aid in response to the pandemic. Cited in the Gazette, I said the changes are an “important step in the right direction,” but that “non-means tested legal aid would allow all domestic abuse victims to access legal support”.
Cris McCurley, a member of our access to justice committee, spoke with BBC Radio Newcastle (from 3:42:07), about why domestic abuse victims are at risk during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Gary Rycroft, chair of our digital assets working group, spoke with BBC Radio Sussex & Surrey (from 3:35:33) about the recent news that airlines are refusing passenger refunds because of coronavirus, as they themselves may go bust.
Roy Daby, a partner at Giles Wilson, featured in a report on business insurance and coronavirus on BBC Look East (from 7:48), where he spoke about policies business take out to assist with situations such as the pandemic. Thom Wilkinson, a member of our conveyancing and land law committee, spoke with BBC Radio Sussex & Surrey (from 3:11:03) about the effect Covid-19 is having on pollution.
As always, please feel free to share this update with your members unless otherwise specified.
The Law Society, 113 Chancery Lane, London. WC2A 1P