Archive for the 'Legal profession' Category

Criminal Law Practitioners Union in the works

People often gripe about the free legal aid system but, to my mind, it’s part of the price we pay for the Republic and its Constitution, which

seek[s] to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured [and] true social order attained.

Some people don’t like that the system exists at all. Others dislike the cost. A small number of lawyers make a lot of money from the legal aid budget, but they tend to work exclusively in criminal defence. And they work hard: criminal defence is far less profitable than many other areas of law, including areas that consume far greater amounts of taxpayer funding.

An email has been circulated among criminal defence lawyers proposing a Criminal Law Practitioners Union (CLPU) to lobby and negotiate with the Government on the system of criminal free legal aid. The email says that, when the next round of cuts are implemented, the fees paid for criminal legal aid will have been cut by up to 50% of their 2007 level.

Cuts of this magnitude will put a large number of [criminal legal aid lawyers] out of practice and seriously undermine the fair and proper administration of justice in criminal law. Cuts of this magnitude are unfair and unjust and impose a greater burden on us than on any other ‘public service sector’.

Two points are involved here: the public interest argument and the private interest argument. The latter doesn’t interest me and will not find much sympathy with the public. But this issue is not about incomes: lawyers are also professionals who want to represent their clients’ interests, not just in court but before they reach it.

For example: it has long been the practice of the Department of Justice to pay defence counsel the same fee as the prosecution. Equality of arms is an important principle, but the Department recently abolished it for criminal trials and imposed a 10% cut on fees paid to defence counsel (ie. 10% less than what is paid to prosecution counsel by the Director of Public Prosecutions). [Edit: I agree with this letter-writer to the Irish Times. Cuts should be equal.]

Quite obviously the only reason that we are very much the ‘poor relations’ in the courts system is because our clients are voiceless and so are we. (My emphasis)

The email points to an interesting comparison which contextualises the legal aid budget: the legal aid budget is around €57 million annually, whereas the annual bill for legal fees for a single State agency, the HSE, is around €30 million. Up to May 2011, Arthur Cox had earned over €11 million advising the Government on the banking crisis alone.

The email seeks support for the CLPU to negotiate terms and conditions of a contract with the Department of Justice for legally aided criminal defence. I would expect that the CLPU will run into competition law issues but the email states that nothing will be done to distort competition.

The email suggests a picket on the courts as a final measure to protest further cuts. This will inevitably be the focus of headlines and the move would be reported by the media as a strike to protect the income of lawyers, rather than a strike to protect the interests of justice. A serious public interest issue is at stake and is unlikely to receive the quality of discussion and debate regularly achieved in the UK.

(As I finalised this blog post, this article published on the Evening Herald website. The headline provides a taste of the tone of coverage to come.)

The timeframe for action is tight, and apparently over 100 lawyers have already indicated an intention to join the CLPU (around 30 of whom are solicitors).

In the meantime, it remains unclear what has become of the last government’s mad proposal to move responsibility for the criminal legal aid system to the Legal Aid Board. However, Brendan Howlin’s Ideas Campaign-style search for solutions has apparently generated the suggestion that inexperienced law graduates “be deployed” to the legal aid system.

For how long will your local District Court be in your district area, or local?

Newcastle West District Court

Today, the Limerick Leader reports on informal discussions between the Courts Service and the Gardaí about moving sittings of the Newcastle West District Court to Kilmallock, about 36 kilometres away. Kilmallock has benefitted from huge investment in recent years, whereas Newcastle West District Court remains antiquated and with few facilities. However, it is still a functioning Court building.

It goes without saying that moving District Court sittings to Kilmallock would have a significant impact on business in the town. The effect would be felt not only (not even most severely) by solicitors, who already travel around the region to represent clients at various hearings. It would, however, force a further downturn on the restaurants, cafes, pubs and shops in the town that get a considerable lift to their business when the court sits.

For those not familiar with Newcastle West, it’s an old market town in West Limerick. It’s the biggest town in the County and familiar to many travelling to Kerry as the main road passes through.

The town has its origins in a castle (the old castle) erected by the Knights Templars in 1184 and since then it has played an important role in West Limerick. Part of that role has been the administration of justice. Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) notes the important market and court sessions in the town:

Courts leet and baron are held by the seneschal of the manor, and petty sessions for the district are held every Friday.

Over the centuries, as with any market town, court and market days brought significant life and business to the town. The market days are mostly a thing of the past, but Newcastle West District Court still sits regularly and incorporates the old sittings of the Adare, Rathkeale and Askeaton courts.

Aside from monetary concerns, moving the court would have a psychological impact, stripping the town of an important official function. The town would be somewhat diminished as a result. And while 36 kilometres might not seem a tremendous distance, there is no direct means of public transport from the Newcastle West area to Kilmallock.

PS. Incidentally, last year the High Court rejected a challenge taken by solicitors in the New Ross area against the temporary relocation of that town’s court sittings to Ardcavan. The challenge was on public interest grounds and on the basis that the move threatened the applicant’s right to earn a living. The case is interesting because it related to temporary arrangements in the case of an “urgent need” or where the courthouse involved becomes “unsafe or otherwise unusable”. This is not the case with Newcastle West District Court.

What?!

The slow and painful collapse of the SMDF continues to surprise, if not delight. Today, a letter from the Chairman of the SMDF raises more questions than it answers. Three sentences jump off the page:

We embarked on a strategic review during 2010, with the assistance of significant outside expertise. It was recommended that we provide indemnity in 2010/11 and then sell our book of business.

When the London insurance market became aware, earlier this year, of the possibility of a Master Policy being introduced for Irish solicitors, any interest in the [SMDF]‘s book evaporated.

What the letter diplomatically omits is the identity of the party who made the London insurance market aware of the possibility of a master policy being introduced. It was, of course, the Law Society.

The result? The Law Society now proposes to impose a €200 annual levy on all solicitors, not just members of the SMDF, for at least 10 years. (The SMDF letter raises the prospect of a 15 year bailout.)

The Law Society and the SMDF have already been criticised for seeking a bailout from Society members rather than SMDF members. But, it now transpires, the SMDF found a solution to its problems which might not have involved calling on all solicitors to bail it out.

The Law Society went public with its (still!) undeveloped idea of a master policy, depriving the SMDF of the opportunity to sell its book. The Law Society will now impose a new solution, at significant cost to its own members.

I might not be the only recipient of this letter to have exclaimed: “What?!”

InjuriesBoard.ie: “lawyer-free zone”, or competitor?

Officially, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (the “Board”) is just another boring statutory body performing a function on behalf of the State. However, the Board has often exceeded that mandate since its creation by acting as a vocal critic of the legal profession. Arguably,the Board also operates as a commercial entity in competition with lawyers, albeit a very strange form of competition where the aim is to deprive lawyers of fees rather than to earn those fees for itself.

I mentioned recently that a wide range of restrictions apply to advertising by solicitors, despite the fact that the Board advertises in a manner not dissimilar to the personal injury solicitors familiar to viewers of UK television. (An example of the latter is below; I have been unable to find InjuriesBoard.ie ads online.)

Indeed, after a few years of operating under its official name, the Board began to style itself InjuriesBoard.ie, a form of branding very much in line with what one might expect from an online claims agency.

An online claims agency like Claims.ie, perhaps? In 2010, InjuriesBoard.ie made a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland under its self-regulatory code on the basis that users might believe Claims.ie was the website of the Board. It also complained that it was not clear who was running Claims.ie or from where. The complaint was upheld, though Claims.ie did not respond to it. The ASAI referred the case to the National Consumer Agency, presumably with a view to enforcement action under the Consumer Protection Act 2007.

Part of the Board’s complaint related to Google adwords, which really is a matter for the courts (in fact, it is very much a live issue for the courts). The Board was correct in stating that it is unclear who is behind Claims.ie, but contact details are provided. The site appears to be run by a company called Claims Ireland Limited but there is no company registered in Ireland with that name (there are two registered business names for “Claims Ireland”). So, the operator may have some difficulties under the Companies Acts or related legislation, which is a matter for the Companies Registration Office and the Director of Corporate Enforcement. Nevertheless, the Board was the organisation to take up the complaint and its choice of forum was the relatively powerless ASAI.

When making a complaint to the ASAI, the complainant must indicate if there is a commercial or other interest in making the complaint. For consumers, the answer will be no. A practical difference in treatment is that a consumer complaint is confidential, whereas the ASAI publishes the name of corporate complainants. The ASAI does not generally entertain complaints between competitors but may do so if a consumer interest is at stake.

What was the Board’s interest: commercial or consumer? The Board’s own website says that individuals may engage an agent to conduct a claim on their behalf. (Why anyone other than a solicitor would take on that role, given the regulatory and liability consequences, is unknown.) If the Board’s complaint was not a case of staking its commercial territory, and instead was acting in the interest of consumers, why does it otherwise go to such great lengths to discourage consumers from engaging independent professionals, the identity and reputations of which are well known?

Aftershock: legal profession

I’ve been blogging about the legal profession’s own private economic crisis since January 2010 but haven’t had time lately to write any updates. Luckily, Flor McCarthy has an excellent blog post on the recent developments. He accurately sums up the frustration felt by many solicitors on the issue:

So for as long as the music kept playing [the SMDF, "run by solicitors for solicitors"] was a great system for all participants. Those paying the premiums felt that they would be looked after by their own in the event of a claim and the lucrative negligence defence work that flowed from this activity was passed out to well connected firms.

But then the music stopped and it turns out the SMDF is the fat kid without a chair. It’s broke. And now it’s looking for the rest of the professional to bail it out.

Effectively, to draw an analogy with the problems affecting the Irish economy over the past few years, the crisis with the SMDF has moved from bank guarantee territory to recapitalisation territory. Solicitors are now faced with a levy of €200 per solicitor per year for at least 10 years in order to avoid a doomsday scenario whereby a large number of negligence claims would not be covered by insurance. This could result in a significant number of bankruptcies on the part of solicitors and unpaid damages on the part of clients.

SMDF

The justification for the levy is that the reputation of the profession would be damaged if this were allowed to happen. There is also the internal justification of “standing by” fellow colleagues who might otherwise go to the wall. For many solicitors, it has come as quite a surprise to learn that the SMDF wasn’t really providing insurance at all, just a form of quasi-insurance by which cover might be available. Hard to swallow for solicitors who have paid tens of thousands annually for that cover.

The latest news is that an EGM was held last night. It was initially called for the purpose of voting on the levy proposal but a spot of solicitor activism meant that a postal vote of the entire profession must now be held. The proposal will probably be carried, despite grumbles.

Once the SMDF is out of the way, the profession faces a proposal from the Law Society to impose a weird “global policy” where all solicitors will be offered cover at set rates and will not be able to arrange their own cover (or get competing quotes). This system is, in general terms, good for firms who have difficulty getting insurance and bad for firms that don’t. Apparently there will be consultation but the timeframe is narrow. The Law Society’s track record on providing information on these issues has not been great (even where the Government is concerned).

Between the changes expected from the Government as part of the IMF/ECB deal and whatever insurance changes are made by the Law Society, the profession will remain in flux for the forseeable future.

Ceci n’est pas une publicité

There are a number of forms of State-funded legal aid in Ireland but, in summary, they will be of no use to you unless charged with a reasonably serious crime or involved in family law proceedings. The Legal Aid Board is not provided with anything close to the resources needed to actually provide a system of civil legal aid. The Free Legal Advice Centres (which are not part of the State-funded legal aid system) pointed out in a 2005 report on access to justice that:

[T]he Legal Aid Board employs 89 solicitors to deliver the entire civil legal aid scheme in 30 Law Centres throughout Ireland. This is less than the number employed in some large legal firms in Dublin. Small wonder then that waiting lists for civil legal aid in many centres have been extremely lengthy, leaving people without any legal assistance for as long as two years in some locations.

It is almost unheard of for legal aid to be obtained to initiate a civil, non-family law case. In addition, many people who would not qualify for legal aid would still find it prohibitively expensive to fund many cases (particularly those relating to serious personal injury or medical negligence). Conditional fee arrangements, commonly known as no foal/no fee, fill the void. Despite this fact, cases which usually involve such arrangements are often characterised as being somehow of questionable merit or a feature of ambulance chasing.

It is, presumably, fear of the profession being tarnished by such characterisation that led the Law Society to severely restrict how solicitors can advertise their services. I wrote about this topic before, mentioning that solicitors can’t advertise the fact that cases might be taken on a conditional fee basis. John McCarthy recently highlighted the ludicrous nature of the advertising restriction.

… I as a solicitor cannot take out an ad offering my services to you on a no win, no fee basis. It does not mean that I cannot provide services to you on this basis, because that is exactly what I do for clients every day. It does not mean that we cannot have a discussion about it, such as what we are doing here. It’s a pretty silly regulation when you think about it.

Such advertising is considered so serious that to engage in it is a matter of professional misconduct and can result in such a finding by the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal. Despite this, the Citizens Information Board tells citizens that many solicitors do take cases on a no foal/no fee basis. The Board, a statutory authority, essentially does what solicitors are prohibited from doing.

Fee arrangements are currently the subject of debate in the UK, where reform proposals are under consideration that could seriously impact on access to justice. Ironically, the current UK system of allowing success fees to be recovered from the losing side was designed to avoid footing a legal aid bill for personal injury claims: the same motivation explains why the Irish Citizens Information Board tells people that many solicitors work on a no foal/no fee basis.

Andrew Dismore suggests on the Guardian website that the UK reforms might only reduce legal costs by scaring potential claimants off.

They are playing on claimants’ worst fears: the threat of uncertain and unlimited legal bills. If the government wanted to reduce legal costs fairly, they should start by giving insurance companies incentives to accept liability and make sensible offers earlier, not by making it harder for the public to enforce their rights to get justice.

Lest people dismiss the access to justice argument on the basis that no foal/no fee arises only in relation to inflated claims arising out of minor soft-tissues injuries, Dismore gives a particularly good example of the type of injustice that could result from the reforms.

Martyn and Christine Harrison’s daughter Sophie was appallingly injured in a road accident in April 2009. She died two days later, when Martyn and Christine made the hardest decision anyone could make by agreeing that her life support machines should be switched off … The Harrisons borrowed the funeral expenses from Sophie’s grandparents because they couldn’t afford them. Their predicament became worse when they sought legal advice. They had problems finding a lawyer because Sophie had been 18 years and one month old when she died. Because she was over 18, her parents were not entitled to bereavement damages. No one wanted to help until they found a solicitor in Sittingbourne, who took their case on a conditional (“no- win-no-fee”) basis to try to reclaim the funeral costs and compensation for Sophie’s pain and suffering for the two days she survived after the accident. As a result of his efforts, Martyn and Christine recovered the funeral costs of £3,151 and £1,599 for Sophie’s pain and suffering.

Dismore’s charge that the UK Government’s proposals are unfair because they favour insurance companies have some resonance here. Solicitors have long complained that the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (now styling itself InjuriesBoard.ie, with television ads in recent years reminiscent of those seen in the UK on the part of claims agencies) is a creation of the insurance industry which favours that industry over citizens.

McGarr Solicitors wrote, before the election, that the new government should abolish PIAB on the grounds that it is unfair to injured parties. Unfortunately, as I regularly complain, the views of solicitors are routinely discounted on the basis that solicitors are a vested interest concerned only with securing huge fees and rarely with justice. It is essentially with that argument that the insurance industry convinced the Irish government to create a system of claim handling that attempted to remove solicitors from the equation and provide the industry with extra options when defending claims. The Board appears to see solicitors as providing an entirely unnecessary, luxury service and go to great lengths to give the impression that solicitors have no role in personal injury claims. Note their FAQs:

you may choose to engage an agent (e.g. a solicitor) who will submit the application on your behalf. You may, however, be liable for some or all of the cost in respect of engaging the agent.

John McCarthy outlines the reality.

The way the insurance industry works is that if you have suffered a genuine loss you have to bring a claim to recover it. However, it pays the insurance industry to drive down the cost of claims by portraying the very act of bringing a claim in an unfavourable light.

The average claimant who has suffered an injury will hope that his/her claim is a one-off and will enter the system with little or no experience of it. Their opposing party, an insurance company, defends claims on a daily basis and has teams of claims handlers and solicitors managing claims. Of course, many solicitors make some of their profits from personal injury claims. But the argument for involving solicitors in such claims is not about increasing profits, rather it is about equality of arms.

Endnote: here’s some great lawyer advertising from the US. But: is it appropriate? It would certainly raise a few questions under the Irish regulations.

Solicitors await a “deluge of legislation” from the next Minister for Justice

© Alan Shatter and/or licensors

"He needs your No 1 vote or he may resort to his phaser weapons."

Fine Gael will probably have the choice of Minister for Justice & Equality and the position is expected by many to go to Alan Shatter, veteran solicitor, politician and publisher of colourful pamphlets.

Shatter was recently interviewed by Stuart Gilhooly for The Parchment and made the following comment, which is either exciting or terrifying depending on your outlook:

He wants a legacy. He wants to change the way the country works. He wants to make a difference. And you get the feeling that if he gets his chance, three decades of frustration will be released by a deluge of legislation.

Much of this deluge may be to the benefit of solicitors. For example, traditions that tend to afford barristers a higher professional status could be done away with: “silly nonsense such as wigs and position in court is treated in contempt” by Shatter. However, given his views on solicitor advocacy and the traditions of the bar, he is surprisingly reticent to offer a definitive view on whether the professions should be amalgamated.

If we are to have modern legal services, there are a few sacred cows that need to be dealt with. The differentiation between solicitors and barristers is going to become more clouded. The question of whether it will be a piecemeal evolution or a structured evolution that is effected by agreement in legislation is an interesting issue.

He goes on to say that solicitors should be admitted to the bar, that changes to solicitors’ costs are on the way but might not be drastic and that the Law Society does a reasonably good job of regulating solicitors. He also “believes that [the] proposed Legal Services Ombudsman who will shortly be appointed may well be sufficient in terms of independent regulation”.

© IMFThe elephant in the interview room was, of course, the IMF. The agreement reached between the Irish Government and the IMF for financial support requires the following structural reforms of the legal professions:

  • establishment of an independent regulator;
  • implementation of the Legal Costs Working Group report; and
  • implementation of the Competition Authority report.

These high-level items provide little detail of what might actually be implemented, unless one assumes that the reports mentioned are implemented in full with no tailoring. Whether or not individual members of the professions agree with the proposed reforms, it is likely that all Irish lawyers would agree that reforms are necessary. As argued by Eoin O’Dell:

It is sad that our governments have not implemented these recommendations of the Legal Costs Working Group and the Competition Authority; indeed, it is doubly sad that it takes an external agency like IMF to insist that these recommendations are in fact implemented.

These reforms must be implemented before the end of 2011 but there has been little news and, as far as I am aware, no communications from the Law Society about the changes since they were announced.

Shatter offers a view on reform of the professions which is quite different than that often aired in the media.

Outside the profession, there is talk of non-solicitors doing this work without realising the complexities to be addressed, the level of training you need or the insurance implications. If you want competition, you don’t want work of lesser quality. It is too easy for politicians who are non-lawyers to talk about competition without understanding the necessity to ensure that professional work is properly done. No one has suggested to the medical profession that non-qualified doctors undertake appendectomies because the perception is that removing someone’s appendix is a relatively simple operation.

Of course, many will dismiss such sentiments as tainted by vested interest. Part of the difficulty for solicitors at present is that their views are rarely given any weight due to the public perception of the profession.

Allied to the disruption facing solicitors when the above reforms are implemented are the ongoing difficulties with solicitors’ insurance. On that topic, Shatter says:

It’s hugely important that consumers are compensated for the negligence of solicitors. Insurance must remain mandatory. The conveyancing area is where a lot of problems arose. Solicitors who were less than expert in conveyancing were charging fees that had no economic reality and short-circuited the work they were doing.

From anecdotal evidence, 2011 will be a horrific year for many solicitors with rumours that a number of successful practices will close. Given that job protection and creation is a core aim of all parties, one hopes that any regulatory changes introduced will not add to the large proportion of the profession which is already unemployed.

The challenge for solicitors

The current issue of The Parchment includes a brief but interesting interview with Michael Finucane, well-known criminal law and human rights solicitor and son of the late Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane. [See page 30 of printed magazine, page 32 of online version.]

He sums up the challenge facing solicitors well in two sentences.

We are a sector being squeezed like no other but for whom there is absolutely no sympathy because of how we’re perceived. What we need to achieve long term is to remind people we are composed of more than partners for property developers; we should take pride in our profession and make it worthy of respect and trust.

The Government could help bring down legal costs overnight, but won’t

Legal costs in Ireland are high, yet the Minister for Justice could, overnight, activate an existing change to the law which could have a significant impact on such costs.

The legal professions are saddled with most of the blame for the high level of costs, but some of the problem is structural: as a rule of thumb, higher courts involve more work and higher costs. This is particularly the case for cases taken in the High Court. So: why not take a case in a lower court?

Dublin’s Four Courts, nicknamed the Four Goldmines by the Phoenix Magazine, gets its name from the four types of court that historically sit* there. Each court has different jurisdiction: its territory, so to speak. [* TJ McIntyre reminds me that the Four Courts gets its name, of course, from the courts that used to sit there (Chancery, King's Bench, Exchequer and Commons Pleas) rather than the current varities]. The four courts of the Irish justice system are:

  • The District Court is the lowest court, with jurisdiction to deal with relatively minor, non-jury, criminal trials and civil cases up to a value of €6,349. There are 23 districts in the State (West Limerick is in District 13). The Small Claims Court is part of the District Court.
  • The Circuit Court deals with appeals from the District Court, more serious criminal cases and civil cases up to a value of €38,092. There are eight circuits in the State (Limerick is in the South Western Circuit).
  • The High Court is one of the two constitutional courts (see article 34 here) and has jurisdiction to hear all civil cases of whatever value. The Central Criminal Court is, in fact, the High Court when hearing criminal cases and it deals with the most serious criminal offences (there are a number of other special purpose courts). It may sit as a divisional court with three judges, as it recently did in Dellway Investment Limited & Ors v. NAMA & Ors (a.k.a. McKillen v. NAMA).
  • The Supreme Court is the second constitutional court and is the court of final appeal. Cases generally cannot be started in the Supreme Court and can arrive there only on appeal.
Four Courts (National Library of Ireland)

The Four Courts/Goldmines in quieter times

Anyone who has been involved in High Court litigation will know that it is generally an intensive and expensive undertaking. Yet, if you have a civil case seeking damages over €38,092, you have no option but to start your case there (except in the rare circumstances where both sides agree to the case being heard in the District Court with unlimited jurisdiction). The hierarchy of courts involves a hierarchy of fees, and some parties may find that their potential claim falls into the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court which may carry a risk of unsustainable fees. It is not uncommon to find claims of €10,000 or more taken in the District Court in the knowledge that only €6,349 can be recovered.

Given the very low thresholds at which cases must be initiated in the Circuit and High Courts, why not just increase the jurisdiction of the District and Circuit Courts? In fact, the Government did this in the Courts and Court Officers Act 2002, 8 years ago. Unfortunately, it is not unknown for recent governments to enact legislation but never commence it (meaning it is not operative) and sections 13 and 14 of the 2002 Act are a case in point. They provide that:

  • The jurisdiction of the District Court be increased to €20,000.
  • The jurisdiction of the Circuit Court be increased to €100,000.

Why have these provisions been left to wither on the vine? According to Murdoch’s Dictionary of Irish Law:

As of 1st September 2004, the Minister had decided to await the experience of the recently established Personal Injuries Assessment Board and to assess the proposed increase in the light of that experience. The final report of the Motor Insurance Advisory Board recommended that the current limit not be increased, other than to express the figure in a convenient euro amount.

The MIAB’s position is that increasing the jurisdiction of the lower courts leads to inflation of personal injuries awards. Given the existence of the now well-established Injuries Board, however, why should jurisdictional increases be held up because of insurance industry concerns about a single type of case?

Making the change would have inevitable consequences for all three lower courts, and while the High Court might have its workload reduced the Circuit and District Courts would certainly require additional resources. However, it would appear to be a change that is long overdue and, given the IMF’s interest in legal costs (see p.14 of the EU/IMF Programme of Financial Support for Ireland),* one which that organisation could easily direct the Minister to make.

* Eoin O’Dell‘s article in yesterday’s Sunday Business Post outlines reforms of the Irish legal professions proposed some years ago and which are now “required” to be implemented by the IMF/EU programme. If these are implemented in the relatively short timeframe of the programme, they would represent something of a Big Bang for the professions.

Unclear whether solicitors’ PI insurance storm has passed

[Updated] This time last year was not a happy one for many solicitors, with huge uncertainty in the insurance market delaying renewals. Insurance must be in place on 1 December 2010 and it seems that this year the market has been calmer, though many solicitors apparently have not been able to renew yet. Publicly, at least, there doesn’t appear to be any of the frenzied activity by the Law Society that accompanied last year’s renewal season.

 

From George Eastman House (Flickr)

Unlucky solicitor reacts to his 2011 insurance premium

Some major insurers, like Quinn and RSA, have left the market this year. The former was forced to leave the UK solicitors’ market earlier in the year as a result of its administration by the Irish Financial Regulator. However, in the past few days, two new entrants have been approved by the Law Society, suggesting that competition still exists and UK insurers see an opportunity to pick up new business. The full list of approved providers, including those not renewing cover this year, is available here.

Until last year, the SMDF was the largest insurer of solicitors and is a “for solicitors, by solicitors” organisation. However, it emerged in 2009 that the organisation suffered huge financial losses and subsequently lost around half of its customers. The SMDF benefits from a loan guaranteed by the Law Society, but that guarantee runs out next year so it remains to be seen what will happen if more customers are lost, as seems likely.

The rumour mill suggests that the huge surge in premiums has not ended for all solicitors. The premium for many firms, even small ones, can be the equivalent of an annual wage, or more.

  • 29 November 2010: Existing insurance cover for all solicitors expires tomorrow (30 November 2010). As solicitors are required to have insurance in place as a condition of practice, this should mean that anyone without cover on 1 December 2010 has to close their doors. The Assigned Risks Pool (ARP) provides insurance to any solicitor unable to obtain cover on the open market, but the cover obtained is more limited than the minimum terms and conditions of insurance for solicitors and, obviously, significantly more expensive. Last year, many were faced with the theoretical prospect of closing the doors as insurance companies had not processed all applications and supplied quotes in advance of the renewal deadline and, to further add to the sense of crisis, the ARP was suspended. However, such solicitors were assured that insurance would be backdated to 1 December 2009 (ignoring the regulatory requirement to have it in place). This year, the ARP has been renewed and it would seem from this email that anyone without renewed cover tomorrow should apply to enter the ARP, even if as a temporary measure.

Photostream

Hello. #westlimerick #glenastar

West Limerick hills on a Summer evening. #nofilter

If ever passing through Newcastle West, stop for a stroll around the Castle grounds. Lovely on a day like today.

Access denied

A snap for Editor_Tupp @tupp_ed

Shower

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