LPAs, the Law Society charity, The Times Best Law Firms 2019, and Edvard Munch’s The Scream: this week’s collection of readers’ letters.
Dangers of digital
I write in connection with your excellent article about the Court of Protection (26 November). As mentioned in the article, an increasing number of attorneys abuse their powers under lasting powers of attorney (LPAs) to misappropriate funds belonging to the donor. This serious problem is expected to grow because of the increasing number of LPAs and society’s demographics. The number of investigations carried out by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) is rising exponentially, clearly with significant implications in terms of time and money for the OPG. The OPG’s answer is to make the creation of LPAs fully digital, so that their staff can spend more time on investigation rather than registration.
Surely, the answer lies in the adage that prevention is better than cure. There need to be rigorous safeguards at the time of making the LPA to ensure that the donor understands the nature and effect of the LPA and is not being forced into making it. The certificate provider must be a suitably experienced solicitor or doctor. At the moment, the safeguards are woefully ineffective.
I am deeply concerned about the current legal journey towards digital processes. I have not encountered any practising solicitor who agrees with it. There is a definite move towards adopting any digital process that makes the system quicker and easier, and an unwritten assumption that this achieves a desirable outcome. There are changes afoot in applying for probate, the aim being to make the application online. The safeguards are simply not present. There are serious implications for the rule of law which are not even part of any debate.
Let us not go along with the assumption of the non-lawyer decision-makers that fast equals good. I propose that we should note the lesson of the emperor’s new clothes before it is too late.
Solicitor, Catherine Higgins Law, Liverpool; chair of the non-contentious business committee, Liverpool Law Society
How your charity makes a difference
What do you know of the Law Society’s own charity? Not many solicitors seem to know anything.
This is your own charity separately constituted from the Law Society, but working closely with it.
In the last year or so, we have awarded significant grants to worthy charities throughout the world with the intention of upholding the rule of law and making it work better in areas where it needs help. That work has ranged from fighting for lawyers who are at risk of their lives in Colombia, and limiting the application of the death penalty in Tanzania, to improving disabled access to tribunals or access to advice on welfare benefits in East Anglia. These are just four of the projects we have supported in the last year.
When money is awarded, we always ask for feedback.
For example, Book Aid International tell us that our donation last year enabled them to provide 2,000 brand new law titles to partner organisations in sub-Saharan Africa. As at least 10 people consult each book, a minimum of 20,000 people will benefit from the donation, including students, legal professionals and members of the public.
At Cape Town University we have assisted the development of a comparatively new venture by helping train black lawyers to represent their (at present) under-represented black communities, many of which previously had no access to justice at all.
In England and Wales, we have helped Justice to find ways of better designing the criminal justice system to accommodate people with mental health or intellectual disability. We have also helped the British Institute of Human Rights with its projects on legal education. The list is practically endless – but available on request.
We can only continue our work by receiving legacies or donations which mainly come from our great profession. Many firms already send us those fiddly client account balances we are all left with at the end of the accounting year. If money genuinely cannot be returned to clients (and is under the £500 limit per client) why not add them all up and send them to us? The money will be extremely well used. Just 20,000 sums of £5 from 170,000 solicitors gives us £100,000 to use for the benefit of everyone.
Chair, Law Society Charity
Among the ‘big boys’
I note John Greenwood’s comments on The Times Best Law Firms 2019 (Letters, 3 December). I agree with his argument that the list is largely unreflective of huge swathes of the profession.
I am a sole practitioner specialising in employment and HR law, and data protection in Cardiff. I work from home, providing advice to employees and employers across the UK. As employees often find it hard to access legal advice I provide significant levels of pro bono support. That is because my business is structured in such a way that I can afford to do so, not needing to hit huge targets for billable hours.
Somehow I made it on to The Times Best Law Firms list, but I am the exception. I understand that it is clients who put you forward for this recognition and I have yet to work out whom I need to thank. I suspect lots of other small firms are not present because their clients are unaware of the opportunity to recognise the service they have received and been happy with.
I was most surprised to find myself among the ‘big boys’. Funnily enough I could not afford the fee The Times wanted for me to be able to use the logo – it was five times my annual marketing budget!
Refreshing Law, Cardiff
I could Scream
A drawing by my 12-year-old daughter (after Munch) now adorns my office door. It captures how I feel as a residential property solicitor and what I may soon resemble. I feel shot at by SRA regulation and the requirements of CQS, lender panel firms, lenders and HM Land Registry. I am also unnerved by judicial decisions (especially in the Mishcon case), KYC & CDD, SDLT complications, and leasehold ‘traps’. Not to mention the near damnation by the government of our profession as ‘enablers’ of money laundering.
I really could scream. Am I alone?
Godwins Solicitors LLP, Winchester