Thursday, 13 August 2015

Everyone's a solicitor these days

Man looking at law books on a shelf while scratching his head in confustion
Choosing a solicitor can be confusing work

Last December, I wrote about a case where a lady had come to me for a second opinion having instructed a solicitor's firm who immediately passed her case to an unqualified paralegal to handle. The paralegal then instructed a wholly inappropriate "expert" who produced a report based entirely on his own guesswork. They wasted about a £1,000 of the lady's money and proved that going for the cheapest quote isn't a great plan any more when instructing a solicitor than when hiring a builder.

Today, I spoke to a lady who is looking for a solicitor. She asked me a lot of questions about my qualifications (that's a good idea, know who you're dealing with before you instruct them). She also told me about another solicitor she had spoken to and had been impressed by, she gave me the other solicitor's name and made clear that she is a qualified solicitor - I admit I always ask who else a potential client has spoken to - but couldn't remember the name of her firm, so I Googled her.

I immediately discovered a press release, which states:

"We are also expanding, due in part to our success and reputation, but also because of the calibre of solicitors our firm is attracting. A recent addition to the team is Jane Smith, with over 3 years practice experience Jane previously worked in the public sector for the Local Authority." (Names and some text have been changed to hide identities without altering the feel of the original).

I don't know this lady - maybe she's
qualified... maybe she isn't (she isn't,
she's from Shutterstock)
Now, Jane Smith isn't her real name and the press release does not explicitly say that Jane is a solicitor, but I think that most people reading that would think she is.  I checked with the Solicitors Regulation Authority and confirmed my suspicion that Jane is not a qualified solicitor.  I have no idea what, if any, qualifications she has to be dispensing legal advice but she certainly does not appear to be a qualified solicitor.  The SRA do sometimes make mistakes - for a long time it was impossible to find my record through the search tool on their website, although I showed up when you found my firm... I checked her firm and she is not listed as a solicitor there either.

What's the moral of the story?  When you instruct a professional, such as a solicitor, find out about their qualifications and make sure the person you are speaking to has the qualifications they claim to have.  You can check a solicitor is real with the Solicitors Regulation Authority - here's my entry.

Not everybody you speak to is honest or has your best interests at heart.  Try to always instruct a solicitor you will be meeting face to face - if they are based in Hull and providing a nationwide service with two staff and a single office then ask when you'll meet your solicitor and who will represent you in court - often the "national" firms will never meet you and will just dispatch any barrister who happens to be free to court, which means you are unlikely to get a consistent service.

I don't want to turn this post into an advert for my firm, but I will say that the ethos of my practice is that when you instruct Nick, you get Nick - so I will generally represent every client at every court hearing and if it's not going to be possible then I will tell you that before you instruct me.  I want to meet every client before their case and I'll always meet them at a location convenient to them, which is why I focus my efforts on people based in London and Oxfordshire only.  I know that there are many other solicitors (and direct access barristers) who work in the same, or very similar, way and provide a great service to their clients.  If you need a solicitor, make sure you find the right one for you.

Monday, 3 August 2015

I'm not a banker but...

Tom Hayes sentenced to 14-years imprisonment for Libor fraud

This afternoon came the news that former City trader for UBS and Citi Bank, Tom Hayes, has been convicted and sentenced to 14-years imprisonment for his part in fixing the London interbank offered rate (Libor).  According to the news sites, Libor was manipulated by so many traders that one has to wonder why anybody trusted it at all.  It also begs the question why only Mr Hayes has been prosecuted when the media report that discussion of Libor fixing was rife in the City.

So, what did he do?  First, I don’t claim to be an expert in banking but so far as I understand it Libor is the interest rate at which banks lend to each other.  Each bank reports the interest rate it is paying to the British Bankers Association each morning, which then sets the Libor rate based on an average of those rates after eliminating the highest and lowest rates reported.  Because the Libor rate is used for a market worth around $10 trillion even very small shifts in the rate can have big consequences for trades made within the market.  Mr Hayes is said to have arranged with others to set the Libor rate at a particular level that would be helpful to him and his bank.

It was accepted during the trial that Libor fixing pre-dated Mr Hayes arrival at UBS but the prosecution said it got worse while he was there as a result of his activities.

For his actions, Mr Hayes has received a 14-year prison sentence, of which he will serve at least 7-years and then be released on licence for the remainder of his sentence.

I’d like to take a moment to compare and contrast this offence with others.

Last week I sat in court and watched another trial that was taking place before my case was called on.  It was an allegation that a group of 18-19 year old men had gone out together looking for another man to attack.  They found a victim, a somewhat overweight middle-aged man, and proceeded to assault him by punching him to the ground where he was kicked several times before passers-by stopped the attack.  The single defendant was convicted and released on bail pending sentence.  During his evidence, the defendant constantly referred to the victim as “the chavvy” and made it clear that he saw nothing wrong in the attack and felt as though the victim deserved to be attacked – although both victim and attacker agreed that neither knew each other.  If he goes to prison – and it’s a big if – the longest sentence he will get is six-months imprisonment for an unprovoked, planned gang attack on an entirely innocent man.  The victim told the court that as a result of the attack he had been afraid to go outside at night for some months afterwards.

Personally, I think that the violent attacker deserves immediate prison more than the fraudster.

So, what level of violence is equal to a fraud?  Gerald Baker was a teenager in the 1970s when he raped two girls, one a six-year-old and he kept raping her regularly until she was 11.  For that offence he received a 14-year prison sentence in July 2015.  But, this was not his first conviction, in the 1980s he was twice convicted for having sex with a girl under 16 and in 1998, he attacked and indecently assaulted a seven-year-old boy, an offence for which he received just three-year imprisonment.  So, it seems that a child rapist needs to have some significant convictions before he gets the same sentence as a first time fraudster.

On the 8th January 2015, Ian Montgomery had an "an extreme and violent explosion of temper" when he embarked on a “brutal, prolonged attack” on his wife of 14 years using a “using a variety of weapons, intending to kill” said HHJ Chambers QC in July 2015 when he sentenced Mr Montgomery.

Mrs Montgomery took over an hour to die from the beating and multiple stab wounds while her murderer went out to work where his colleagues described him as “calm”.

The only sentence for murder is life imprisonment; however, the judge must also set a minimum period the offender must serve before being released.  What minimum period did the justice system deem sufficient punishment for taking the life of Mrs Montgomery and leaving her to die alone knowing that help was never coming to her?  You guessed it, 14-years… the same time our banking fraudster friend received today!  Now, I know that the sentence is actually one of life imprisonment, but the minimum period must reflect the period of punishment deemed appropriate for a given offence – the rest of the life sentence is there not to punish but to protect society from the release of somebody who may still be dangerous.

I have said to clients for years that if they go out and knock their wives or girlfriends around the house, as long as they don’t kill her, they’ll never get a sentence near what they’d receive if they steal money from big business or the government – now it seems that even if they do kill her they’ll only just get the same sentence!

I’m not saying that fraudsters should never go to prison, but when we live in a society where the punishment period imposed for murder and repeat rapists are the same as those imposed on fraudsters I think we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere.