Sole practitioners are well equipped to see off the business pressures of the coronavirus crisis – but some need extra help to safeguard their futures.
That was the message from Clive Sutton, honorary secretary of the Sole Practitioners Group, the body representing a sector consisting of more than 2,000 firms in England and Wales.
Sutton said sole practitioners are ‘alive and well and surviving the crisis’, with the sector well placed to deal with sudden changes to working practices and the closure of law firm offices.
But there remain a number of areas, notably around indemnity insurance and government grants, where sole practitioners need assistance to ensure their businesses emerge from the lockdown intact.
Sutton said sole practitioners’ flexibility has maintained client service during the restrictions, with many seamlessly reorganising their offices and contact arrangements.
He added: ‘For those who work from offices with staff their flexibility of being able to reorganise through one person in charge, and the lack of the need to hold partners meetings or ‘management meetings’ means that an immediate decision can be made as to how the work would continue, by the principal returning to his or her home and the staff working from their homes.’
Sole practitioners say the volume of matrimonial work has increased, while many others have a long tail of litigation cases in progress. There has been a considerable demand for instant employment advice, and many businesses have found imaginative ways to get wills signed and witnessed if necessary, in response to sudden extra demand.
Those involved in conveyancing work have been left with partly completed transactions and problems will continue even when lockdown is lifted, as many estate agents have closed leading to a gap in instructions.
Sutton said sole practitioners face the same pressures as barristers over the government’s offer of a grant to the self-employed. Limiting the scheme to those with average annual earnings less than £50,000 means that many sole practitioners do not quality, and the group is lobbying for a graduated scheme for those earning more.
Another issue is that many sole practitioners are paid from dividends and not from self-employed PAYE income, and this group are not being offered support.
Sutton noted that many sole practitioners who have suffered a downturn in business will be aggrieved at paying significant professional indemnity insurance premiums at a time when risks have greatly reduced. He added: ‘Whilst they are unlikely to expect any return of premium, they would like some adjustment in premiums in the future.’