The end of the 14th largest law firm in Scotland
A talk on 'Lawyers and Social Media' emphasising the importance of personal branding for young lawyers which can and should start whilst still law students.
Three days ago (on 3 September 2015) Sean Jones QC set up a Just Giving page called the ‘Lawyer’s Billable Hour Appeal’. This was to raise a target of £7,500 by “billing for Refugees for Save the Children because of the vital work they do with refugee families”. The page goes on to state:-
The refugee crisis is real, urgent and claiming lives. We are asking lawyers to donate a billable hour to help Save the Children do its vital work.
Not everyone can give, we know. If you cannot please deploy your advocacy skills to nag someone else into doing so.
In an interview with Channel 4 News, Sean elaborated on this:-
I got very upset by the photograph of the young boy on the beach, and as a father of young children I just found seeing that utterly harrowing.
Given that this whole crisis seems to be energetic machine for creating appalling injustices it is naturally something that makes lawyers sit up and want to do something about it.
In just a matter of hours Sean smashed the target he set himself and just three days later, and as I write this post, the sum donated has reached £112,612.80 with 914 donations. This is an amazing response to a fantastic initiative. Much of the word has been spread in such a short space of time through social media which shows how powerful the medium is.
It is not just lawyers who are donating. Here are a selection of comments left on the page:-
Sean has pledged that if the £150,000 mark is reached he will release the recording of his “career-destroying #LawSmash standup routine. Other LawSmashers will do the same.” Only two of the nine LawSmashers have so far released their recordings and you can hear those via my post on Law Smash: Lawyers do stand-up comedy. So get donating now for this vital cause to hit that £150,000 target and hear the full set from Law Smash. I am sure that new target will be well surpassed in a short period of time.
Well done Sean.
You can donate via Sean’s Just Giving Page: justgiving.com/BillableHour
Update – 20 September 2015
Two weeks after writing this post, Sean’s appeal has gone way over the £150,000 mark and today stands at £188,014.57. Sean has therefore, as promised, released his “career-destroying” #LawSmash standup routine. You can now listen to that via my post on Law Smash: Lawyers do stand-up comedy.
Yesterday (Friday) afternoon a potential new client called my law firm, Inksters, looking for a Notary Public to notarise documentation for her today (Saturday). She had already called a good number of law firms in Glasgow but the response from each had been the same: “Tuesday is the earliest we can do it as it is a bank holiday weekend and we are closed until Tuesday”.
At Inksters we are open on Monday as we don’t close on bank holidays (other than Christmas and Easter Monday). As I am often in the office over a weekend it would not be a problem for me to see a client then if they want to meet at the weekend. I wouldn’t think twice about accommodating a request to specifically do so and, indeed, have done just that on a number of occassions.
But today (Saturday) I was planning (at the request of my wife) to spend the day at home doing household chores that included, amongst other things, mowing the lawn. So I had to tell the potential new client that I wouldn’t be in the office on Saturday but would be happy to meet her there on Sunday. However, Sunday was going to be too late for her as there was a deadline to submit the notarised documents by e-mail (as long as then followed up by post) that could only really be met if the notarising took place on Saturday. Not wanting to be as obtuse as the other law firms had been to her I enquired as to where she lived. It transpired with some serendipity that she lived just around the corner from me! So I suggested that we meet at my home this morning for the notarising to take place and that is what happened. She is now a happy client and I was still able to cut the grass so I have a happy wife too!
Even if we had not lived so close together she would have been more than happy to have crossed Glasgow in order to get the documents notarised wherever I had lived. It took very little time out of my day and was indeed much easier for me than arranging a meeting over the weekend at my office. No other law firm she contacted even contemplated such an arrangement. They thought only of their own normal working hours and not of the possibility of being flexible to meet the specific needs and requirements of a potential new client. Inksters gained a client. They didn’t. No doubt that new happy client will tell her friends the story about the accommodating lawyer and we will get even more new clients as a result.
In this day and age lawyers can’t afford to miss opportunities by only being open 9am to 5pm (possibly closed 1pm to 2pm) Monday to Friday and closing on bank holidays. Your customers don’t live in that world. You have to adapt to their world.
A couple of weeks ago there was a power outage in central Glasgow that affected parts of the G2 and G3 postcodes. This included my law firm’s HQ: The Inksterplex. Power was out for a little over an hour. When it did come back on there was a couple more short outages before it stabilised. Then a week later exactly the same thing happened but this time for the best part of two hours. This was an unusual occurrence in the centre of a city and not one that you would expect to happen twice in the space of a week. However, it did demonstrate the benefits of cloud computing.
— SP Energy Networks (@SPEnergyNetwork) March 23, 2015
Had our servers been located within The Inksterplex then work that Team Inksters were working on when the power went off may have been lost. If remote workers in our Wick and Portree offices or those working from home or on the move were connected to such servers within The Inksterplex then they would have been cut off too.
As it is that thankfully was not the case. Our servers are not located in The Inksterplex but are located in a data centre which benefits from back up generators in an event of a power cut. Our solicitors in Wick and Portree were able to operate as normal. Those solicitors at home or on the move were unaware of the power cut. I was in Shetland on business during the second power cut and was operating without difficulty via my Surface. Even those in The Inksterplex could still function via their mobile phones or laptops (assuming their batteries were charged!).
So a clear example of the benefits of having your law firm in the cloud.
Lender Exchange is a secure portal for lenders to manage their conveyancing panels. It is operated by Decision First, a joint venture between title insurance company First Title and Decision Insight. Law firms must pay a fee (ranging from £285 to £995 per annum depending on the size of the practice) to use the portal. Lender Exchange was imposed on the legal profession when it launched in the UK on 4 August 2014. The first lenders making it mandatory to use Lender Exchange to be on their conveyancing panels are Lloyds Banking Group (which includes retail mortgages for Bank of Scotland, Birmingham Midshires, Halifax, Lloyds Bank and Scottish Widows Bank) and Santander.
Law firms must input and keep up to date on Lender Exchange a plethora of information such as each solicitors previous employment history covering at least a period of 10 years. Practicing certificates and Professional Indemnity Insurance certificates must be uploaded to the system annually. Much of the information that each law firm must spend time and effort inputting into the system is readily available from the Law Society of England & Wales, the Law Society of Northern Ireland and the Law Society of Scotland. These Law Societies repeatedly offered to provide the data free to lenders but their offer was refused without any explanation. Des Hudson, when he was Chief Executive of the Law Society of England & Wales, said that the result was:-
A single commercial provider has been given a powerful position and the potential to control the dynamics of the conveyancing market and introduce needless cost to the detriment of consumers.
Lender Exchange state on their website:-
We’ve been working hard with banks and building societies to deliver a service which makes the lives of conveyancers across the UK easier when dealing with lenders on panel related issues… we aim to make the process of applying for panel membership and updating lenders on changes in your businesses easier, quicker and more cost effective (for law firms and lenders alike).
Well that was certainly not my experience of Lender Exchange yesterday.
I received an e-mail from Lender Exchange that read:-
Further to our previous emails regarding outstanding information and/or documents, our records indicate that the requested action has still not been taken.
As 28 days have elapsed since our initial request and despite several reminders, you have failed to supply your firm’s PII or a reason for this continued delay, your firm has now been suspended from the following panel(s):
Lloyds Banking Group
Your access to Lender Exchange remains active at this time, however you will need to contact the appropriate lender(s) directly to discuss your panel status with them.
I couldn’t understand this as I knew that I had updated all the information requested on the secure portal in advance of the deadline date previously given to me by Lender Exchange.
I assumed they had an administrative glitch in their systems.
I phoned them up.
I told my story to the lady who answered the phone. Having done so she advised me that she had nothing to do with Lender Exchange. She was in another department of Decision First and if the Lender Exchange phone lines were busy they overflowed to them. I was to phone back in a few minutes when hopefully someone at Lender Exchange would answer the phone before it went through to the overflow again!
I waited a few minutes and phoned back. To my relief it did not overflow this time but was answered by a lady actually employed by Lender Exchange. I told her my story. Yes she could see that I had uploaded all the information that I had to onto the system but I had not pressed the “Submit Firm Details” button. This was on a different page from the one I had updated the information onto and after updating the information I was supposed to know to go to that page (no alert supplied to do so) and press the correct button. There are actually two buttons next to one another on the relevant page: “Update Firm Details” and “Submit Firm Details”. Although I was actually in my mind updating firm details and had previously submitted firm details I was not to use the Update button but only the Submit one. So having been talked through this confusing system I pressed the submit button.
Having now resolved the administrative/technical issues caused by the Lender Exchange system I assumed my law firm was no longer suspended from the two lenders’ panels. No I was told. My law firm remained suspended and I had to take it up direct with the lenders in question to see if they were willing to reinstate. I asked to speak to her manager.
The manager showed me no sympathy. The Lender Exchange secure portal was proven to work and I should have used the 64 page user guide available online if I was unsure how to operate it! A very quick glance at the user manual suggests it is aimed at the first registration process and not the actual updating of information once registered. However, the manager reiterated that my inability to use the Lender Exchange systems properly meant my law firm was suspended from the two panels in question and there was nothing more she could do about it. If I wanted reinstated I had to contact the administrators of the panels in question direct.
Now I would class myself as very computer literate and technologically savy. If I couldn’t follow how to use the Lender Exchange online portal correctly how were the many solicitors who are less computer literate fairing?
Anyway, the prospect of achieving the work on my desk I planned to deal with on Friday afternoon was fading fast. I now had the prospect of phoning two lenders before me.
Both panel administrators were very pleasant indeed and a nice change from my encounter with Lender Exchange.
I learned from both that they had no forewarning or any knowledge that Lender Exchange were issuing such e-mails! Thus Lender Exchange had intimated suspension to law firms on behalf of but without the authority or consent of the lenders!
Apparently 50 such e-mail were issued to law firms by Lender Exchange yesterday and 250 are scheduled to be issued during the forthcoming week.
I was reassured by both panel administrators that my law firm had certainly not been suspended from their panels and I was to simply ignore such communications from Lender Exchange. This was comforting indeed but should Lender Exchange not have ascertained this before being so adamant with me that suspension had taken place? The Lender Exchange portal still shows my firm’s panel status as suspended today. No doubt I will have to spend a good part of the forthcoming week getting them to amend that status to reflect the actual fact that suspension never took place at all.
No, Lender Exchange certainly does not make the lives of conveyancers across the UK easier when dealing with lenders on panel related issues and it does not make updating lenders on changes in your businesses easier, quicker and more cost effective (for law firms and lenders alike). It is a complete and utter fiasco and the lenders need to sort this mess out. I trust the Law Societies will be lobbying them to do so and hopefully, this time, the lenders will sit up and take notice.
Now I have got that out of my system I will be spending the remainder of today, Saturday, doing the work that Lender Exchange prevented me from doing yesterday afternoon.
What do you think of Lender Exchange?
Picture Credit: The image used is © BBC from the television series Little Britain