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.
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
On 9 October 2014 I was in London for Law Smash. Nine people associated with the law in one way or another took to the stage at the basement bar in the Star of Kings to do stand-up comedy for the first time.
The comedians for the night (pictured above from left to right and in order of appearance) were: Jeremy Hopkins, Simon Harper, Tim Bratton, John Miller, Rachel Agnew, Sean Jones QC, Daphne Romney QC, Myles Jackman and Laurie Anstis.
Law Smash was organised and compered by Steve Cross and was a spin off from LawFest.
The comedy we heard at the Star of Kings included tales of social media, bed & breakfasts, death, lying like politicians, star trek toilets on trains, life as a QC, Pulp Fiction analogies, the path in life we may have taken and bestiality. So a good mixture of topics and not a huge amount directly to do with the law, which was probably a good thing. The routines and delivery were top class across the board. They created a lot of laughter from the audience.
I am no stranger to comedy performances with my own show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013. But there I was surrounded by professional comedians with me being the butt of their jokes. I did have to think up, hopefully, funny retorts on the hop. But it was nothing to what being on stage on your own must be like. Terrifying I expect. All nine acts at Law Smash pulled it off remarkably well and appeared like polished professionals. Well done to them all and I am looking forward to Law Smash 2015 already. Steve Cross asked me at the end of the night whether I would be up for performing at Law Smash next year. I will sleep on it for now!
The night ended with a turn by professional comedian Tiernan Douieb. There was then a chance to catch up with some friends old and new over drinks.
All in all an excellent night out. I would give it 5 stars.
Law Smash was a fundraiser for the National Youth Arts Trust, who work to make the arts accessible to kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. All the profit made went to them.
Update: Jeremy Hopkins has published audio of his routine. Enjoy:-
Update 2: Audio of John Miller’s routine now also available. More to enjoy:-
It was very sad to hear of the demise yesterday of another well known Scottish law firm. Tods Murray was formed in 1856 and by 2014 was ranked the 14th top Scottish law firm by The Lawyer based on turnover of £12.4 million. The Scotsman reported in January 2014 that Tods Murray grew its pre-tax profits to £2.5 million in the year to 31 March 2013 from £2.3m in the previous 12 months. But apparently such turnover and profit was not sufficient to keep the wolves from the door. It should be born in mind that, as reported in The Scotsman in November 2011, financial returns at Tods Murray had fallen from a high in 2007 when turnover hit £22.5m and gave the firm a net profit of £8.6m. Tods Murray went into Administration yesterday and was immediately acquired by Shepherd & Wedderburn. Whilst the 160 or so Tods Murray staff are transferring immediately to Shepherd & Wedderburn reports suggest that an initial 50 redundancies are likely.
Tom MacLennan and Iain Fraser, partners with FRP Advisory, were appointed as joint administrators to Tods Murray. As reported in The Journal of the Law Society of Scotland, Mr MacLennan said:
Tods Murray had exhausted every option to turn the business around, and was faced with an unsustainable gap between high fixed costs and income. Administration was the only alternative for the firm, but we are delighted that Shepherd & Wedderburn has acquired the Tods Murray business, and will provide the partners and staff with a stronger platform from which to service their clients.
The demise of Tods Murray was in stark contrast to the news announced just over a week ago when Caroline Shand joined the firm as partner from global law firm Nabarro. The Daily Record quoted Tods Murray, executive partner David Dunsire, saying:
It is a very exciting time just now.
Confidence has been regained in the economy and clients are looking for opportunities.
We are delighted to welcome Caroline to bolster our top level service and legal guidance to the real estate finance market.
We have an unparalleled team and we are very much looking forward to the future.
David Dunsire was apparently unaware that Tods Murray would no longer exist just over one week later.
Rumours of a possible administration at Tods Murray circulated back in 2009 with David Dunsire having to write an open letter to the Scotland on Sunday in March of that year:
We have heard that we are on our bank’s ‘at risk’ register, that partners have refused to inject more cash into the firm and that we are, indeed, about to go into administration. All of this is totally untrue. The firm is financially stable.
In January 2013 Tods Murray were apparently bouncing back with David Dunsire telling The Scotsman:
We have taken steps over several years to restructure and build a lean and effective practice which leaves us well placed, I believe, to emerge from this recession stronger and fitter as we have done with others during our 150 year history.
In an article published in 2009, entitled ‘Lawyers ponder the future as knife is wielded‘, Ian Fraser wrote:
One source said that Scotland’s law firms are currently in “no man’s land”. While dealmaking and all the other boom-time activities dried up long ago, they are still awaiting the “tipping point” — when a spate of corporate restructuring and widespread insolvencies starts to fill the void. For some of the over-stretched firms, the wait might just prove too long.
It clearly did for Tods Murray.
Tods Murray joins other high profile law firm casualties in Scotland in recent times such as Ross Harper and Semple Fraser. Other Scottish law firm names that have vanished through merger with larger English firms include Biggart Baillie, McGrigor Donald (latterly known as McGrigors) and Dundas & Wilson.
I don’t imagine for one minute that this is the last we have seen of such casualties. Why though are these problems besetting large long established law firms? I may consider that in more detail in a future blog post. In the meantime your views are welcome.