Assisted dying, revenue growth, buyers’ conveyancers, and guilty plea diktat: your letters to the editor

Why voices on life and death matter

As new polling shows widespread and increasing public support for assisted dying, it is more incumbent upon our lawmakers than ever to take note. 

Lord Falconer pointed out in an article for (25 March) that doctors are rightly adopting a more nuanced approach to this issue. MPs, however, are still lagging dismally behind. With someone from the UK travelling to Switzerland for an assisted death every eight days and 300 terminally ill people ending their own life in England every year, it is abundantly clear that the current law is not fit for purpose. 

Some 84% of Britons now want to see a change (up from 82% in 2015). In these divided times, assisted dying is a cause that unites the vast majority of the country. 

As in the medical profession, in parliament there is a vocal minority of longstanding opponents who seek to exert undue influence on the assisted dying debate. I hope our lawmakers can see through their blatant scaremongering and listen to those whose voices are most important – their own constituents and terminally ill people. 

Sarah Wootton
Chief executive, Dignity in Dying, London W1

No complacency is just good business 

I was pleased to read in the Law Society Law Management Section benchmarking survey (news, 1 April) that median fee income is positive for the ninth consecutive year.

We should perhaps study the figures cautiously, however, as this is the lowest rise since 2013 (4.1%). 

Looking at revenue growth, which is also up (on average) across different practice areas, it should also be noted that the rate of growth slowed significantly during the last reporting period. Net profits are up, as is average PEP, yet partner numbers fell. Some 15% of participants reported partners drawing amounts higher than profits for the last two years. Median partner account balances were also the lowest for some time. 

A big positive is that lock-up fell by 4%. So my best advice for the profession is there should be no complacency on business growth and revenue. 

There needs to be tight controls on partner drawings, with medium- and long-term planning for promotions and successions. By also maintaining the essentials of pricing and cashflow, that should keep everything flowing.

Richard Allen
Costs solicitor, Burcher Jennings  

Conveyancers stuck in the slow lane 

Am I alone in my exasperation with buyers’ conveyancers raising endless standard additional enquiries on a residential purchase? Not only is it in breach of the Protocol but it adds a huge amount of time for a seller’s solicitor and slows the whole process down significantly. 

It is not uncommon for buyers’ conveyancers to raise 40 or more additional enquiries, regardless of their relevance to the transaction. Some are dressed up as enquiries but are really a ‘fishing expedition’: ‘Are there any residual issues arising from the way the house is built?’ 

Some are clearly survey points: ‘Has the property suffered any damage as a result of any subsidence, heave, landslip or other movement of the structural soil?’ (this on a newbuild property!). Some are just nonsensical: ‘Please confirm your clients own the legal and beneficial interest in the property.’ 

It is hard to explain why this is on the increase. Whether it is done in the misguided belief that the conveyancer is doing a thorough job for the client, or whether it is simply backside-covering is not clear. However, the CQS office of the Law Society should do more to curb this practice and should be prepared to withdraw the CQS accreditation from persistent offenders.

No one minds dealing with a few relevant additional enquiries, but for the most part no common sense has been applied before these enquiries are raised and many display a complete ignorance of basic property law. 

The job of a conveyancer is difficult enough without these sorts of unnecessary and time-wasting practices. 

Richard Atkins
Residential property partner, Taylor Walton LLP, Harpenden

Ditch guilty plea diktat, HMCTS

We are writing in our capacity as joint chairs of the Law Society Criminal Law Committee, in response to your article ‘Solicitors told to stay behind and explain late guilty pleas’ (news, 29 March). 

We would like to make the following points. 

1. HMCTS has not had the courtesy to consult the Law Society on this matter or even inform it of its intentions.

2. The steps proposed are highly inappropriate and smack of a misguided desire to put pressure on practitioners to (in turn) pressurise our clients to enter guilty pleas. 

We would be interested to know from HMCTS where it believes its power lies to hold solicitors behind in courts at the conclusion of a case. It smacks of a ‘naughty corner’, which is highly inappropriate. 

Practitioners are reminded that in no circumstances should they reveal to the court the content of discussions with a client without the client’s express consent.

We are of the view that HMCTS, in taking this high-handed approach, is only serving to erode any working relationship that may exist between the service and practitioners. 

We strongly advise any practitioners who are made subject to this request, first to ask the court under what power they seek to ask them to stay. It cannot be case management, as the case has concluded.

Second, practitioners should make it plain in the clearest possible terms that they cannot say anything due to the constraints of confidentiality and legal professional privilege. To say any more would put them in breach of their professional duties.

We would urge HMCTS to rescind this diktat immediately and in future act in a more conciliatory way.

Ian Kelcey and Richard Atkinson
Joint chairs, Law Society Criminal Law Committee