What should you expect from the 21st century lawyer?

With the advent of technologies that enable faster communication and increasingly efficient service delivery, clients are in a stronger position than ever to demand more of their lawyers.

The modern solicitor’s more traditional counterpart is often seen as a wise counsellor in an ivory tower. The relevance of this solicitor, who waits to be approached by his client in a book-lined, fixed-site office, should be reassessed.

In view of the modern technologies at our disposal, what exactly should clients demand or expect from the modern solicitor?

Changing expectations

With new and faster forms of communication continuously being developed, the speed of interaction at both business and personal levels has become near-instant. Clients should expect a commensurate development in the speed and efficiency of their solicitor’s communications.

Today, there is no excuse for a lack of frequent and timely feedback between all parties involved in a matter. Conveyancing, for example, demands regular updates from buyers’ solicitors, sellers’ solicitors, and estate agents.

The modern solicitor can also appreciate that family and private client matters, for example, are not restricted to normal business hours. Solicitors should be available at times of client need, whether in the office first thing, on a Saturday morning, or available on their mobile phones outside of business hours.

In fact, the modern solicitor should be available to make ‘house calls’ to see clients in their homes or offices. This can be particularly crucial for those who are frail or elderly.

Solicitors should also take into account an individual’s financial circumstances. Is it really impolite to ask a solicitor for a discount?

The 21st century lawyer

Modern solicitors have left their ivory tower. They are able to empathise and adapt to the needs of their clients. It is no longer good enough for solicitors to rely on a hundred years of history. Solicitors who are committed to quality and thoroughness of service will make the necessary adjustments to meet these increased client expectations.

At the end of the day, you should feel that your solicitor is on your side and there to meet your needs. Isn’t that peace of mind?

 

 

Beware of bogus solicitors

This year has seen an increase in ‘scams’ relating to bogus law firms. Conveyancing, the legal process of buying or selling a property, is an area that has been particularly targeted.

The increased use of technology and increased use of online conveyancing services is enabling criminals to perpetrate fraud in a way that was not previously possible. Posing as legitimate law firms, they have succeeded in deceiving both solicitors and the public to obtain large sums of money.

The role of the Solicitors Regulation Authority

The Law Society’s webpage ‘Find a Solicitor’ has been considered a trusted source when checking the legitimacy of a firm. However, this webpage cannot guarantee a conclusive substantiation or verification that a firm is legitimate, as bogus law firms have been placed onto this list.

The BBC’s programme ‘Moneybox’ has highlighted a case where a homebuyer lost £735,000 to the criminals who had managed to register themselves on Find a Solicitor.

David Robinson, a solicitor representing these fraud victims, said that “It is unacceptable, in my view, that either a solicitor or a member of the public cannot phone up or email or write to the SRA and get reliable confirmation that X or Y is or is not a solicitor, since it is the SRA who set the criteria and requirements for getting onto the Law Society website.”

This raises the issue of how you can reliably check the credentials of a law firm and ensure that your money is safe.

How do you know that it’s safe to transfer your funds?

There are  tell-tale signs that a firm is bogus. For instance, if the only point of contact is an email account or telephone number and there is no registered firm or a physical address, you should be concerned.

In today’s internet world, the more remote you are from the professional ‘advice giver’, the greater the risk. The risk involved in providing your ID and financial details online to unverified firms is great, especially where your home and large sums of money are involved.

There is enough that can go wrong when buying a house at the best of times, so to ensure that your funds are secure, it is always better to use your local solicitor and meet them in person. This helps to confirm their identity and legitimacy, providing you with peace of mind.

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Alessandra Sulzer is a member of the Conveyancing team at FM&C Solicitors and may be contacted on +44 (0)1799 526 849 or +44 (0)7462 404 147.

Email: conveyancing@fmc-solicitors.com

For a Ha’penny’s Worth o’Tar

Should I do my conveyancing online?

This morning I ordered my food shopping, booked a holiday and read the news online. I even considered purchasing a husband online. Yes, it is possible to rent a husband online. It’s an amazing thing; your husband can cook, clean – who thought a husband could do either of those! Anyway, this is not the point I’m trying to make. Managing your life online is cheap, efficient, and easy.

The same applies to online conveyancing. Many are choosing to undertake the legal side of buying or selling a property from behind a computer screen. In my rockets and aliens pyjamas, I can instruct an online conveyancer to take on the process in a cost-effective and hassle-free manner.

But are there risks? As with an internet husband, the saying ‘what you get is what you pay for’ applies to online conveyancing.

Moving home is, for most, the largest financial investment they will ever make. Conveyancing quotes and fees can be misleading. There are often hidden extras in the small print and the lack of local expertise can lead to greater costs and wasted time in the long run, when additional issues arise.

Short term savings vs. long term gains

Searches are carried out to discover additional information about a property that often isn’t obvious. This part of the process is crucial. Searches identify where planning permission may be granted for a future development affecting the worth of your property, including chancel rights, the quality of the ground on which your house is built, or details of common drains.

These various strands of investigation can bring to light different issues as well as problems common to an area that can affect each property differently. Online conveyancing companies do not guarantee the same conveyancer throughout the process and therefore cannot provide as efficient and locally knowledgeable service as a Saffron Walden- or Haverhill-based solicitor.

But what if all searches undertaken come up clear and you reach completion?

Consider what could happen if in a worst case scenario you discover major legal defects after completion, or even ten or fifteen years later. Sometimes the crucial information is not what is immediately apparent in the documents before you, but what you wouldn’t have the legal knowledge to identify yourself and is therefore concealed. This highlights the need for a qualified local solicitor to undertake the legal side of buying or selling a home.

“A good quality local solicitor who is familiar with the area and has a depth of knowledge is often better than solicitors out of town. In addition cheaper online options can often be a false economy and can cause delays and issues in the conveyance process.” Bruce King, Cheffins Estate Agents.

So, going back to cheap. While it is unwise to pay too much, it is worse to pay too little. When spending £100,000 on a property, is it truly worthwhile to save £100 by going online?

While it is not immediately apparent, your local solicitor can ensure a faster, more efficient and friendly process to guarantee your peace of mind. While the internet means I rarely need to venture out into the cold, there are occasions where I am tempted out of my woolly rockets and aliens pyjamas to visit my local friendly solicitor.

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Hailey Badger is a member of the Conveyancing team and may be contacted on +44 (0)1799 526 849 or +44 (0)7900 492 547.

Email: hailey.badger@fmc-solicitors.com

Hope for the best, but plan for the worst

Who will manage my money if I can’t?

Most people know that if they care about what happens to their money, property or belongings when they die then they need to make a Will. But what about what happens when you are still alive but can’t manage those things yourself?

Delays and Frustration

The answer is that the Court of Protection will appoint a Deputy to take over. However, this may be a total stranger who doesn’t know you or your circumstances.

If you have friends or family who want to help they can apply to be appointed as your Deputy. This is a long-winded business and they will have to provide a number of supporting documents as the Court of Protection needs to be satisfied that the Deputy is a suitable person to take on such a sensitive role.

The time this takes can be very frustrating but, worse, it may mean necessary adaptations to your property cannot be made or a place for you in a care home cannot be secured because your money is, in effect, blocked.

This can even happen if you have a joint account but do not have the necessary capacity to deal with your own financial affairs.

Choose someone you trust

So is there anything you can do now to avoid problems that may arise in the future? Happily, the answer is “yes”. A Lasting Power of Attorney allows you to choose who will take over your property and manage your financial affairs should this be necessary.

As well as the peace of mind that comes from choosing someone you trust, if the Lasting Power of Attorney has been registered at the Court of Protection there will be none of the damaging delays involved with applications to the Court of Protection.

The Lasting Power of Attorney document also gives you the opportunity to set out guidance for the person you have chosen and can specify when it is to be used.

You should consider taking professional advice on completing the Lasting Power of Attorney document as if it is not done correctly the Court of Protection will not register it, rendering it useless.

Making a Lasting Power of Attorney has a number of advantages. You choose a person you know and trust to handle your money, you specify the circumstances in which they should use the authority you’ve given them, and you set out in writing guidance as to how they should use that authority. Last but not least, you save the people who care for you the frustrations and anxiety involved in arranging your affairs if you don’t have a Lasting Power of Attorney.

None of us knows what is round the corner so it isn’t better to “hope for the best but plan for the worst”?

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Henrietta Brett looks after the Wills & Probate team at FM&C Solicitors. She may be contacted on +44 (0)7453 624 619 or +44 (0)1799 526 849.

Email: henrietta.brett@fmc-solicitors.com

 

 

Is your Will worth the paper it’s written on?

The government is considering proposals to regulate the practice of Will writing, following a request from the Legal Services Board. Due to a lack of regulation Will Writers with no technical qualifications, negligence insurance or continuity arrangements continue to practice Will writing.

The Legal Services Board has encouraged regulation to reduce what the Board says are “significant risks that consumers currently face” when using unregulated Will Writers. The request by the Board is intended to bring regulation of will writers in line with that of Solicitors.

When people make Wills their aim is to reduce risk. A Will helps ensure that someone’s estate will pass as they would wish after their death; providing support to families, friends and charities.

Anyone can set him or herself up as a Will Writer. The lack of restrictions on the business of Will Writing means that Will Writers have a lack of technical qualifications.

A properly drafted Will ensures property and assets are inherited by those you wish, allowing you to make provisions for children and express your funeral wishes. The consequences of a poorly drafted Will are significant and far-reaching.

These Will Writers provide Wills at competitive prices, charging from £85 for single Will. The widespread use of hidden fees by Will Writers, such as review charges and storage fees, escalate this cost. Will Writers often quote around £20 per annum for storage of a Will at the National Wills Safe, while a local Solicitor will often store a Will free of charge.

It is during the process of estate administration that fraud and theft from estates can occur. The Law Society has warned that “consumers risk losing everything if they allow unregulated and unqualified will writers to have full control of their estate’s assets”.

Will Writing companies lack sufficient arrangements in place should the company cease trading, which may mean that your file is lost.

For true peace of mind please ensure that whoever writes your will is regulated by the professional governing body the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Solicitors are tightly regulated by the SRA, ensuring that wills are produced to the highest professional standards and worth the paper they are written on.

While Will Writing Companies are often members of the Institute of Professional Will Writers, this is not a regulatory body and cannot offer the same level of consumer protection as that provided by the SRA. This could leave you with nowhere to turn should things go wrong.

The unregulated service offered by Will Writers leaves the public unprotected from abuse in this vital area.

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Julie Indaco-Plumb is a member of our Wills and Probate Department at FM&C Solicitors and may be contacted on +44 (0)7462 441184 or + 44 (0)1440 761 200.

Email: julie.indaco-plumb@fmc-solicitors.com

 

Children and family disputes without Legal Aid

We are all too aware that the Government, in its efforts to improve the state of the Country’s economy, has implemented a wide range of cuts on public spending.  One of the targets of the cuts has been the legal aid budget, and decimation is not too strong a word for the cuts in legal aid in family law cases.

A myth has circulated that lawyers have become “fat-cats” on the proceeds of legal aid.  Nothing could be further from the truth, at least in family law cases where solicitors have for many years seen their rates of pay for legal aid work reduced to the point where they have been conducting cases  for a third or even a quarter of their normal rates of pay.

The disappearance of legal aid

Since 1st April 2013, much of that has changed because the availability of legal aid in family law cases has disappeared almost entirely. No longer is publicly funded legal advice available to enable parties of meagre means to obtain a divorce. Parties to divorce proceedings, however poor, will need to find the resources to pay for their divorce or “do it themselves” without a lawyer.

Furthermore, disputes between parents regarding their children will no longer be litigated under legal aid unless there have been recent incidents of domestic abuse. Disputes concerning children can become very complicated and in some cases expert reports from psychiatrists, psychologists and substance abuse laboratories are needed to assist the court. Such cases  can be very expensive to resolve and yet public funding will often not be available to meet the cost.

Disputes between divorcing parties concerning their property and finances may not be litigated with legal aid unless there have been incidents of domestic abuse and the victim’s case satisfies the strict criteria for eligibility.

So when is legal aid still available for family disputes?

Importantly, legal aid remains to enable the victims of domestic abuse to seek the protection of the courts and in appropriate cases family lawyers can arrange for applications to be made to the court on an emergency basis, sometimes within a matter of a few hours. However, even here there are limitations to the availability of legal aid and the victim will be expected to have first reported the incident  to the Police.

Legal aid remains available as of right for parents where their children are the subject of care proceedings. In those cases the parents can obtain legal representation regardless of their means or ability to pay in order to oppose the removal of their children.

What are the consequences?

Many people of limited means will no longer have access to publicly funded legal advice. They may not be able to afford to pay even a modest fee for legal representation. They may have to make their own application to the court to seek a legal remedy, prepare their case and  appear in court in person without a lawyer. Their opponent may be in a similar situation. Judges will have to deal with more cases which are presented not by trained lawyers but by parties acting in person, unfamiliar with court procedures and terminology and who are handicapped in presenting their own case. Cases may have to be decided without the Court having the appropriate expert evidence and without being addressed on relevant legal issues thereby leading in some cases to “rough justice”.

Solicitors are developing strategies to assist people in those situations including reduced fees and fixed fees as well as services where they help with some parts of the case while the client handles more routine aspects himself.

Alternatives to the Court

The Courts and the Justice Department are keen to encourage parties to settle their disputes out of court by making use of mediation services. Trained mediators are available in most areas and will try to assist parties who often cannot communicate well with each other, to find their own solution to their dispute.  Although mediation is not always free, it will  be a less expensive process than the parties fighting their case in Court.

Mediation however, is not always the answer. There are cases which are not suitable for mediation for a variety of reasons, e.g. long distance between the parties, a history of abusive behaviour where the parties cannot be expected to sit down together or simply where the parties do not approach the mediation process with a constructive attitude. Often the parties then need the assistance of solicitors to help resolve their dispute and as a last resort, by applying to the Court.

Parties to family disputes, whether it be relationship breakdown, divorce, children or financial disputes should first see whether they can resolve the problems by talking to each other.  At an early stage they should seek initial advice from a solicitor who can, in appropriate cases,  refer them to mediation.   They should return to the solicitor for advice at any stage. Only as a last resort,  when all else fails, should they take the matter to Court.

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Simon McKay heads the Family team at FM&C Solicitors and may be contacted on +44 (0)1799 526 849 or +44 (0)7456 630 400.

Email: simon.mckay@fmc-solicitors.com