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Bloomsburry Family law

Professional indemnity

It’s a banker

‘You can bank on it’ is a phrase meaning something is bound to happen, or a dead cert. I’m not sure that the children of today will utter the words much as they grow up. The press tell us that banks caused the recession by throwing money at people in a willy-nilly fashion without first checking whether they could afford to pay it back, and many people now view banks with a similar distaste and mistrust which has for years been reserved for us lawyers.

Like pulling teeth

Renewing your practising certificate online is worse than a session at the dentist, says Russell Conway as he is told about 'teething problems' with the SRA's new system I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I had just renegotiated my professional indemnity insurance premium and had received my new insurance certificate, which these days is always something that gives rise to celebration. The whole round of professional indemnity insurance renewal had become rather stressful, and, while this year I was a little more encouraged because I am on the Lexcel route and have the Conveyancing Quality Scheme logo, there is always that nagging doubt that as a smaller firm I might not be able to negotiate as robustly as I might like. Having sorted out my indemnity insurance all that remained was for me to renew my practising certificate and that was normally a very straightforward process of filling in a form. Having sorted these two pressing matters out, I could, I hoped, relax a little. Imagine my surprise this year when I discovered that this was all going to be done online. The first stage in the process was a registration where you had to put in no less than three passwords, all of which had to be remembered. Some were rejected and then you had to think up a new password. Interestingly, when putting in the password you would then be asked to decipher virtually unreadable words to ensure that somebody was not doing this fraudulently on your behalf. The whole process was tiresome, difficult and, to a large extent, inefficient. Teething troubles When I completed the procedure I was told I would receive an email confirming the situation, but no email ever arrived. I was left with no choice but to phone the SRA. That is a process that involves electronic choices, waiting online for a considerable period – and having to grind through to the SRA’s choice of background music. It was like pulling teeth. When I eventually got through to them they apologised for the delay which was due to “teething troubles”. I understand this is something that colleagues have also experienced and having regard to the fact that simply registering is not in itself such a difficult thing I am a little surprised that the process could not have been made somewhat easier. Perhaps the SRA should have a word with Amazon – their software is very user friendly. Of course the bigger issue is the group renewal of all the firm’s solicitors’ practising certificates and giving the SRA the information they require every year. This year I had been warned that they would want additional information such as a list of complaints. Throughout September I kept an eagle eye on my emails to see when the SRA would contact me or my firm as I had understood that the group renewal form would be coming in that way. I tried phoning the SRA several times, but when I tried to get through to them on this particular topic, despite hanging on on one occasion for 45 minutes, I was simply unable to make contact with anyone. On another occasion I spoke to somebody who said she did not know what was going on and I should “wait to see if an email came in”! Recently I heard there were significant teething problems with group practising certificate renewal software and still decisions had not been made as to whether it would be a paper application or an online application. This of course raises several issues. First, I have been put through a considerable amount of inconvenience and stress. Second, if practising certificates were not going to be renewed until some time in December, what happens to those firms that have not managed to acquire indemnity insurance? Will the SRA be able to locate those firms or have them on their radar? Third, large-scale software schemes should not really be as difficult as this. I know problems can occur but surely this is a process that should have been piloted and dealt with a year ago with a view to being introduced across the board this year. No scope for error When I introduce a new accounts system in the firm or a new document management system I have to get it right first time because if things go wrong the customer suffers. Equally, if I move offices I have to ensure the firm’s phones, emails and computers are up and running on a certain day. There is no scope for error. I have to get it right. It is a pity that the problems that have arisen with this year’s practising certificates appear to be a disaster waiting to happen and that lawyers have not been given enough advance warning about what is happening, when the problems will be resolved and what steps managing partners like myself should take. Cosmo the dog sleeps beneath my desk blissfully unaware of the problems caused by the renewal process. Sadly I cannot take such a peaceful approach to all of this. Getting my firm’s practising certificates in order every year has always been something that I have managed to do on time and without problems. It’s a pity that this year the process has become so much more complicated and delayed.

Gold blend

With ABSs looming and the economy still unstable, many firms are considering merging to gain a competitive edge. Charles Fuchter and Jacqueline Shicluna explain why they took the plunge