Profits into premiums, global heating, and crisis in the courts: your letters to the editor
Profits into premiums
I own a small solicitors practice. Residential conveyancing accounts for 65% of our turnover, commercial property 15%. We turned over £740,000 from June 20 to July 21 (up £100,000 year on year). We are a claims-free practice. My insurance broker has just informed me that there is only one insurer willing to offer insurance and that the premium is double what we paid previously (the quote is well over £50,000).
The insurer is requiring more than 50% of our profits for the year. I understand from my broker that the pool of insurers with an appetite for underwriting conveyancing practices has reduced and this is just the worst.
I employ 16 staff, most of whom worked their socks off to help people meet the SDLT holiday deadline and were, in my opinion, offering a public service this year. Instead of rewarding them with pay rises and investment in support systems, I now have to hand the money over to an insurer who requires more than 50p in every £1 of profit we make as a business.
I have called a couple of other owners of property law-based solicitors practices and they are having a similar experience.
Name and address supplied
No ducking this heated debate
I read the In Focus item (6 September) on whether City firms should refuse to act for companies that contribute to global heating. This is a difficult one for the profession. What surprised me was the number of lawyers who only saw this as a matter of access to legal advice and refused to look beyond that.
It is the undoubted right of a business (however egregious their behaviour may be) to access competent legal advice and assistance. For many the debate simply stops there.
Yet failing to do anything about global heating will – even if the mildest predictions are true – drive the extinction of many species, render farm lands unusable, reduce the amount of fresh water, cause rises in sea level resulting in the total loss of some island nations and require the wholesale removal of many people to higher ground.
We cannot argue this has nothing to do with lawyers. In advising clients how to minimise the impact of environmental legislation on their businesses, we become part of the problem whether we like it or not. The advice we give, under our duty to act in the best interests of our clients, might actually drive global heating and be directly in conflict with the interests of the planet.
You may say that this is just the natural consequence of what we do, and I would not dispute that point; but that argument comes awfully close to suggesting that global heating is not our problem at all. It is then but a short step to suggest that lawyers are more concerned about the fees they might receive from the very wealthy clients who are responsible for a great deal of our planet’s environmental damage, than they are about the planet and the welfare of future generations. This is almost certainly not true but it does not look great.
So how can the profession ensure that all clients are provided with the advice they need, while at the same time engaging with the agenda to reduce the future damage to the planet and, if possible, reverse some of the damage already caused?
Extinction Rebellion is wrong to suggest that lawyers should not advise fossil fuel companies. To attempt to prevent them from taking advice on the basis of a moral judgement about their commercial activities is wholly unacceptable in any civilised society. Some of Extinction Rebellion’s activities may break the law – should they be prevented from taking legal advice too? Assuming, however, that the legal profession does not want to become the bête noire of global heating (a fair assumption), we must grapple with this. Ducking the debate is simply not an option.
Bilston, West Midlands
In-person non grata
There is a crisis in the courts. Cases that require determination by a judge are being listed at the convenience of the court, at the last minute, without consultation.
Even when availability dates are given to the court, cases are listed without reference to counsel. In one case of ours, this means the only person who was in court throughout a family case is not available on the day to which the final hearing has been allocated to argue costs. In an increasing number of cases, direct communication with the judge is required to get done what needs to be done.
Clearly, such conduct by the courts affects solicitors, but it also affects parties and undermines confidence in the system.
Never, I suspect, have solicitors felt more alone, more abandoned and less respected (if we ever actually were) by a government, courts service and judiciary which clearly do not care about the (safe) administration of justice.
Senior judges wax lyrical about the advantages of IT and artificial intelligence, online courts and mediation (didn’t I hear all this 20 years ago?). Meanwhile, solicitors and barristers are forced to attend courts for short administrative hearings when cloud video platform, a conference call or even email could resolve the matter in minutes, saving travel time and unremunerated expense.
Prisons lack appropriate video technology to reduce or even eliminate travel and the waiting time when attempting to discuss a case with a client, or for an expert consultation to take place. Investment in video technology would also reduce security risks in prisons.
Covid-19 is going to be around for some time. Those who are blessed with a robust immune system based on horse dewormer or daily sea bathing and vitamins can take whatever risks they like; but for an ageing population of solicitors and counsel, trips into prison and to court are a health lottery. Alternatives to in-person hearings exist and should be compulsory.
Arthur Michael Robinson
Director and solicitor, Emmersons Solicitors Limited, Sunderland