As a young clerk, I enjoyed doing conveyancing completions. These involved a chance to earn travel expenses on a trip out of the office to examine searches, undertakings and abstracts. I also compared copy deeds with originals, as though I knew what I was looking for, and then handed over a banker’s draft. I was always told to guard the draft with my life, as it was as good as cash. Before the days of bankers’ drafts, lawyers’ clerks had to travel with bags of gold coins. I have seen a reference to solicitors’ disbursements to cover the purchase of a pair of pistols to guard the money (not the clerk).
Now money transactions are done online – and the opportunities for theft and fraud have grown immensely. We have all seen horror stories of firms closed down after their client accounts had been raided. Whatever the size of the firm, we are all vulnerable to these threats. Most solicitors handle large amounts of money (not theirs) and similar quantities of sensitive information.
Everyone has had dodgy emails offering tax refunds – fake notifications from regulators. A new one is emailed notices of prosecution for speeding offences. The ingenuity of criminals seems unlimited and every time you cope with one threat another replaces it.
The risks are manifold and include open visitors’ wifi in the office; staff working outside the office and accessing information; loss of data; unauthorised access to client account; social media gaffes; deliberate sabotage; and, my favourite, the firm that mistakenly remitted money to the wrong recipient.
Author: Peter Wright
£59.95, Law Society Publishing
The consequences of getting things wrong are, of course, dire for practitioners who are struggling to make ends meet. They include the financial loss involved, reputational loss, difficulties securing indemnity cover in the future and, to top it all, practitioners can be fined or punished by a range of regulators.
These challenges make this relatively short, readable book very handy. It is written by a leading expert in the field, with plenty of guidance, checklists and examples, and a CD with precedents.
Guidance includes a Verifying Bank Details Checklist. This suggests we should warn clients that solicitors will not notify a change of bank details by email and, in turn, will not accept change of client bank details without proof.
We all need policies and training at every level, from receptionist and office cleaner to senior partner. An excellent, though scary, book.
David Pickup is a partner at Pickup and Scott Solicitors, Aylesbury