Baker Small has been dropped by local authority clients, while its sole partner has referred himself to the SRA.
The law firm at the centre of a row over gloating tweets posted following a special education needs (SEN) tribunal victory has been dropped by local authority clients, losing instructions worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Norfolk Council, which has a £600,000 contract with Milton Keynes-based Baker Small, said in a statement: ‘We have informed Baker Small today that we will be making arrangements to cease working with them as soon as possible.
‘While we have noted Baker Small’s apology on this matter, our view is that tweets posted over the weekend were wholly inappropriate and do not in any way reflect how this council wishes to work with families.’
Seven other councils have cancelled or are reviewing their use of Baker Small, which in its Legal 500 profile lists 80% of its instructions as deriving from education law.
Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Buckinghamshire either suspended their contracts or announced their intention to do so. The known contract value of the seven, as listed under the contract lists of each, exceeds £1m, though this is spread across more than one calendar year.
Norfolk’s statement added: ‘There are current cases that Baker Small are holding on our behalf, and we will be in direct contact with the families concerned and the tribunal offices to advise them of our revised arrangements for these and on a case by case basis.’
Contacted by the Gazette, the firm’s managing director and sole partner Mark Small emailed the following statement: ‘As solicitors we have to set high standards and my conduct was abhorrent in respect of tweets sent out on twitter. A self-referral to the SRA was immediately sent and is now being investigated.
‘I have apologised for the serious error of judgement on my part which was both provocative and hurtful to many. I deeply regret it and have issued two apologies and made a donation to a children’s charity. I am passionate about the law in this area and a moment of red mist has done severe damage to my firm and reputation. I alone take full responsibility.
‘Local Authorities have ceased instructing Baker Small but I would like it noted that we have not received any complaints about the services provided to them.
‘We have had no complaints in the six years of operation from our clients and we have provided a high standard of service and support. In some cases we have placed our staff directly in SEN teams to deal with staffing issues and the pressures faced as a result of the Children and Families Act.
‘I look forward to co-operating with the SRA with the hope of re-establishing Baker Small’s presence in the sector in the future.’
In addition to the self-referral to the SRA, at least one complaint has been sent to the regulator, the text of which was posted on parent-led website Special Needs Jungle.
The relevant tweets were posted from the Buckinghamshire firm’s main Twitter account on Saturday evening and concerned a ‘win’ which had ‘sent some parents into a storm’. The firm continued: ‘It is always a great win when the other side thinks they won!’
Tweets included a picture of a kitten that appears to be yawning, with the message: ‘Some great tweets received today from people who just see a one-sided argument… just shared them with my cat… .’
The following day, Mark Small posted an apology from the firm's Facebook and Twitter accounts.
The response acknowledged previous tweets had caused a ‘great deal of upset and offence’, with ‘full and appropriate action’ to be taken to address the matter.