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Living the Eye Life – November 2022

Living the Eye Life!

I have just returned from my first week away since the pandemic struck in March 2020. Given most of my work involves travelling around the country on the railway network visiting law firm clients, it seemed entirely appropriate that I shunned the airports and took a train. Top tip, for those of you who are familiar with the Trainline App, did you know that you can just type in the name of any European city and trainline can sell you a ticket! Quite remarkable really. So I typed in Marseille and within minutes I had booked a week in Marseille!  What a beautiful city it is too. The train ride was so simple, Eurostar to Paris, a quick change and then a three-hour journey directly to Marseille. About the same time as it takes to visit my clients in Manchester. Marseille itself is still suffering the effects of the drought experienced across Southern Europe so the water was turned off without notice but a minor inconvenience given what a summer we had.

The last time I was in Marseille was for the 2007 rugby world cup. For those of you that know me I am a bit of a rugby nut. So I was very upset to read that whilst I was in Marseille, the English Premier club Worcester Warriors had gone into administration. What has all this got to do with compliance I hear you ask. Well one of the co-owners of the club, Colin Goldring, used to be a practicing solicitor. As more details emerged, we heard that Mr Goldring had been banned from the legal profession without regulator’s permission after a multi-million-pound car deal for a client fell through. The client did not get his cars and as a result, Mr Goldring was reported to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal along with his boss Raja Shazad Khan and was made to pay £13,000 in costs, with Mr Khan being made to pay £20,000. Following the report, Mr Goldring said: “The legal profession is rightly held to a high standard, and it is regrettable that failings were found at the firm I was working for as a trainee which impacted some of the work I did for a client. The outcome delivered by the SRA acknowledges the lack of supervision provided to me as a Solicitor”.

The bit that caught my eye was the SRA acknowledged the lack of supervision of a trainee solicitor. Mr Goldring was employed by the firm between 2016 and 2018. Since then we have endured a time where remote working for some solicitors, including trainee solicitors, has become accepted practice. And not just solicitors but also members of the finance team. This is a subject we have continuously raised with all our clients with regard to taking steps to ensure adequate supervision. So one question for the COFA is does your Accounting Policy Document truly reflect your current working practices? And are you regularly carrying out COFA matter file reviews to ensure that all your fee earners are acting in accordance with the firm’s policies in this area? Failure to do so could land the firm in all sorts of regulatory issues as well as the individuals concerned.

It is worth remembering that the SRA are taking these issues very seriously too. You only have to take a look at the recent Solicitor Disciplinary Tribunal decisions to see that they take a dim view of this, often resulting in solicitors being fined or struck off the roll. In one such recent decision it was alleged amongst other things

“From November 2015 until July 2016, he used his firm’s client account as a banking facility, by receiving and making payments totalling £195,000 on behalf of a client, when there was no underlying legal transaction for receipt of the monies or the payments. In doing so, he breached Principles 6 and 8 of the SRA Principles 2011, and Rule 14.5 of the SRA Accounts Rules 2011”.

The above allegation resulted in a fine for the individual concerned. The case does however highlight the need for firms to remain vigilant when supervising their staff to ensure compliance with the Accounts Rules. A combination of Accounts Rules training, adequate supervision and a COFA file review programme to ensure processes are being followed is the surest way to ensure the firm stays on the right side of the regulator.

On a happier note – it’s not long now before the ILFM autumn conference! At the time of writing this piece, I still have no idea where it is being held only that it is being held on the 17th of November. I for one can’t tell you how happy I am to be able to attend one of these events in person. I know I have said it before, e-conferences are great and were amazing throughout the pandemic, but you can’t beat the real thing! There are quite a few of you out there who I have not been able to share a glass of wine with for far too long. I will of course be attending the event by train. If they decide to hold it in Marseille then can I suggest you book a seat on the TGV and make a week of it!

David Thorpe

Director – Financial Eye