More than half of trainee solicitors have racked up debts of more than £10,000 before qualifying, according to an annual survey published by law student forum TraineeSolicitor.co.uk. The survey of around 200 trainees revealed that 55% had debts in excess of £10,000, while 35% were more than £15,000 in debt, and 18% had no debt at all. Some 86% of trainees questioned thought too many people graduated from the Legal Practice Course (LPC) each year, increasing competition for training contracts. The survey showed that 60% of trainees had made 10 or more applications for a training contract, with 12% making more than 50 applications. Nearly 90% thought it was harder to get a training contract in 2009 than in 2008. National firm Eversheds was the firm where most trainees said they wanted to work, with City firm Allen & Overy in second place and national firms DLA Piper and Pinsent Masons in joint third. Jamie Hutchinson, a director of TraineeSolicitor.co.uk, said: ‘2009 was the toughest year in recent memory for anyone looking to secure a training contract. Firms cut the number of training contracts, reduced salaries, deferred start dates and made hundreds of newly qualified solicitors redundant. Even the Law Society started a campaign to warn students about the risks of pursuing a legal career.’ He added: ‘It is now common to take a pre-application online test, complete an online application, attend an assessment day and face numerous interviews before obtaining a training contract… Competition is fierce and 2010 will only see the number of applicants per vacancy rise.’ The full survey results are available at: http://www.traineesolicitor.co.uk/survey.
The Solicitors in Local Government (SLG) group has teamed up with three schools and a legal advice charity to raise the profile of local authority lawyers in the ‘neglected’ area of pro bono work. The SLG has agreed a partnership arrangement with the Citizenship Foundation to participate in its Lawyers In Schools scheme. The scheme places legal professionals in the classroom to help develop young people’s awareness and understanding of the law. The SLG has also linked up with LawWorks, a charity providing free legal help to individuals and community groups. SLG chairman Guy Goodman said: ‘Pro bono has been neglected by local authority lawyers, but that is set to change. The funding is in place for us to begin working with three schools, two in Yorkshire and one in the East Midlands. More than 20 law firms are already active in the scheme across the country, but this is the first time SLG has become involved. Our lawyers also have the skills and experience to help LawWorks continue providing a free advice service.’
Banning referral fees will harm the legal profession and will have no effect on reducing law firms’ marketing costs, the chair of the Claims Standards Council (CSC) said last week. Speaking at the CSC annual conference in Manchester, Accident Advice Helpline managing director Darren Werth said it is ‘shocking’ that the Law Society and Lord Justice Jackson want to ban referral fees. ‘It will drive businesses underground,’ he said, creating ‘a future not in line with a modern commercial world’ by ‘legislating against market forces’. The Legal Services Board’s consumer panel recently commissioned management consultants Charles River Associates to undertake an ‘economic study’ of referral fees. Jackson concluded in his final report on civil litigation costs that referral fees should be banned in personal injury cases, while the Law Society Council voted at the end of last year to press for a ban on referral fees. SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said last week that the SRA ‘supports and is contributing to the cross-sector review of referrals by the LSB’. Werth said: ‘In any economy where solicitors run businesses for profit, they need referrals. Solicitors don’t market their businesses very well. If a solicitor spends half of his marketing budget with an advertising company and the other half with a claims management company, which is the bigger evil? ‘Abolishing referral fees would have no impact on marketing costs. Without them, there would be far less competition in the marketplace with only large firms surviving. You outsource to the most effective provider, which will most likely be a CMC. ‘It’s ridiculous to single out referral fees as some kind of problem. Jackson fails to recognise the millions of pounds that CMCs have spent on promoting access to justice. There has been no government-led campaign on this.’
The Law Society has launched a new service which it claims will help firms navigate the increasingly complicated area of risk and compliance and put in place risk management procedures. The Risk and Compliance Service includes in-house consultancy, a newsletter and a Lawyerline complaints and compliance support service. Law Society president Robert Heslett said: ‘Over the last decade the legal profession has been subject to an unprecedented level of change. In particular the Legal Services Act has remoulded the regulatory framework, while the economic downturn has placed a heavy spotlight on risk, not least in the eyes of insurers and lenders.’ Heslett said this had resulted in a new legal market in which regulatory compliance and management of risk are two of the three biggest concerns for any managing partner, next to profit. ‘The Law Society is responding to this need within the profession by developing an innovative, effective and affordable way to manage risk and regulatory compliance,’ said Heslett. He added that the likelihood of an even tougher professional indemnity insurance renewal process this year makes it imperative that firms look at their systems and processes for client care and risk management, to ensure they can demonstrate best practice. For more information go to: http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/productsandservices/specialinterest/riskandcompliance.page
Cablegate has some way to run. It is far too soon to know the final consequences for all those involved, though few may find that the affair ends well for them. We may, however, be able to glimpse the wider implications of this episode. We could, after all, be in at the birth of the internet’s Gutenberg bible – the moment of dramatic change in the form of political communication, even if the final distribution of forces remains, as yet, unclear. One of the best accounts of Julian Assange comes from Raffi Khatchadourian in the New Yorker (7 June). He went to Reykjavik to interview Assange in ‘the Bunker’, a secluded house. Assange and WikiLeaks volunteers were preparing to release the video from the US Apache helicopter of the killing of 18 people. Assange had a rootless childhood. His mother was constantly on the move; he allegedly attended 37 schools. He became fascinated by computers; got a conviction for hacking and a compulsion for information. Some of Assange’s writings are pretty impenetrable but his recent op-ed piece in The Australian (8 December) is coherent enough. He argues that there is no proof that anyone has yet been hurt by the disclosures and that WikiLeaks has uncovered a number of ‘startling facts’, ranging from the State Department’s attempt to get its diplomats to spy on senior UN officials, to the fixing of our Iraq inquiry to protect ‘US interests’. In his article, Assange refers to the US Supreme Court’s comment in the Pentagon Papers case that ‘only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government’. A video on the web shows Assange comparing notes with a remarkably well-preserved Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the Pentagon Papers 30 years ago. The difference is size and focus. Ellsberg was hand-copying his papers through a Xerox machine; he was pushed to process 7,000 pages and would not have had a chance with WikiLeaks’ 250,000 documents. Ellsberg was also leaking a document specifically put together for a purpose with which he disagreed; Assange is leaking information bundled up simply because technology allowed it to be put together. There are themes in the content but they are more indiscriminate. The prime responsibility for Cablegate lies with the US State Department. Create a database of fascinating information that is accessible to over three million people and the only issue is how long you wait for the first leak. This was the pragmatic argument against identity cards which Justice pressed time and time again. The identity database, now cancelled, would potentially have contained a major source on every significant transaction you made. Yet there would have been wide access – an enquiring journalist’s dream. The cables reveal little with which to reproach its working diplomats – save for the odd incentive to spy on the UN. They seem to be making a pretty good fist of reporting what is going on. It is the idiots who couldn’t set up a system to keep it quiet that should take the heat. The key issue is what duties does WikiLeaks have? Legal responsibilities seem, to the US administration at least, distressingly few. The US has been scouring its espionage legislation, but this requires obtaining information ‘with intent to be used to the injury of the United States’. Assange’s line is that: ‘Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media.’ He would argue that US democracy benefits from his work. But should he accept any measure of moral restraint? In September, Article 19, which styles itself the ‘global campaign for free expression’, published a statement on WikiLeaks. It is generally supportive but it does argue that ‘WikiLeaks and similar sites should follow good ethical practices to ensure that the information made available is accurate, fairly presented and does not substantially harm other persons’. This gets close to the heart of the moral darkness that is the web. In the absence of legal control, the web is self-regulating in two senses. Content is controlled by the individual moral decisions of those posting it, like Assange. In another sense, the whole thing regulates itself in the crudest way possible – the balance at any one moment of the conflicting interests of governments, commercial and assorted hackers, leakers and freedom insurrectionists. In such circumstances, the comparison between publication on the internet and in print screams for further attention. Newspaper editors, notably Paul Dacre of the Mail, rage against the privacy restrictions that face the tabloid press in performing their sacred public duty of exposing celebrities’ sexual peccadilloes. Cablegate just underlines the triviality of most of the cases in which this has been fought out in our courts. But how long can we justify tight rules for printed media when these manifestly do not apply, and cannot be enforced, against publication on the internet? At the very least, are we not going to have to construe the public interest a little more in favour of print publication? Bear in mind that one of WikiLeaks’ earlier successes was the Trafigura case, where it broke the story of facts which were clearly in the public interest but which were then being suppressed. The genie is out of the bottle. There will be plenty of disaffected citizens attracted by WikiLeaks’ offer of ‘a high security anonymous drop box fortified by cutting-edge cryptographic information technologies’. More hitherto confidential information is undoubtedly coming our way. We, as readers, will have to use our own judgement more to appraise its value rather than have it processed for us. On balance, I’m for it, but you could easily take a different view. It doesn’t really matter – it is going to happen anyway. Roger Smith is director of the law reform and human rights organisation Justice
JEB Fasteners Ltd v Marks, Bloom & Co (a firm)  1 All ER 583 applied; Cavendish Funding Ltd v Henry Spencer & Sons Ltd  PNLR 122 considered. (4) The consequences of the incorrect valuation being provided by the defendant was that the claimants paid an excess of £18m. Accordingly, that figure represented the loss suffered (see ,  and  of the judgment). Caparo Industries plc v Dickman  1 All ER 568 considered; South Australia Asset Management Corp v York Montague Ltd (sub nom Banque Bruxelles Lambert SA v Eagle Star Insurance Co Ltd)  3 All ER 365 considered; Nykredit Mortgage Bank plc v Edward Erdman Group Ltd (No 2)  1 All ER 305 considered; Aneco Reinsurance Underwriting Ltd (in liquidation) v Johnson & Higgins Ltd  2 All ER (Comm) 929 considered. In 2001, the claimant companies retained the defendant firm of chartered surveyors and property consultants to advise them in relation to the acquisition of a site for development. That site fell within an ‘enterprise zone’ which was eligible for enterprise zone tax allowances, which had an effect on the value of the property. The second claimant was created as an investment vehicle established to enable individual investors to invest in the site. It was appointed trustee after the start of the relationship between the first claimant and the defendant. Pursuant to that retainer, the defendant provided positive advice about the site’s commercial prospects, and valued it at £63m, with enterprise zone tax allowances, and £48m without. The claimants contended that the defendant’s advice substantially overstated the commercial prospects, and that the value of the site was fundamentally flawed. The claimants issued proceedings seeking damages for breach of contract and/or in negligence. The claimants sought damages from the defendant in respect of all the losses they suffered as a result of entering the transaction. The claimants calculated the damages on the basis of the difference between the price paid together with any profits earned, and its actual subsequent market value. Alternatively, they sought damages on the basis of the difference between the price paid and its true value at the time of acquisition. The defendants questioned whether the second claimant was a proper party to the litigation, denied liability and causation, and put quantum in issue. The claim would be allowed. (1) On the evidence, it was established that the defendant had been retained by the claimants and had agreed to prepare the valuation on the terms the claimants alleged. Additionally, the defendants owed the claimants a duty of care in tort (see - and  of the judgment). (2) It was established law, inter alia, that the process of valuing real property had strong subjective elements. It was an art not a science, and not every error of judgment amounted to negligence. There was a ‘bracket’; a ‘permissible margin of error’. It was a necessary pre-condition to liability that the final valuation figure was shown to be wrong, i.e. ‘outside the bracket’. Where the court was considering whether a valuation was in itself negligent, the claimant normally had to show not only that the valuer fell in some way below the standards to be expected of a reasonably competent professional, but also that the valuation fell outside the range within which a reasonably competent valuer could have valued the asset. Where the valuation was made up of a number of different aspects, a different methodology might have to be adopted in relation to different aspects because of the nature of the particular valuation process with which the court was dealing. In general, the bracket should only be assessed by arriving at a bracket for each of the variables rather than only for those variables that were alleged or found to have been negligently assessed. If the valuation was outside the range, the professional might escape liability if he could prove that he exercised reasonable skill and care. If the valuation was found to fall within the range, the claimant would still be entitled to succeed if it could demonstrate that it had suffered loss as a result of negligent advice given in the course of, or in addition to, the valuation process. Whatever the range might be, the court had to form a view as to what the correct valuation would have been. If that ‘correct valuation’ fell outside the appropriate range of the actual valuation, damages would be assessed by reference to that figure. It followed that damages should not be limited to the excess over the highest valuation which would not have been negligent (see - of the judgment). Applying that approach, the competent valuation of the site on an open market valuation without the benefit of the enterprise zone allowance should have produced a figure of £34m. The figure supplied by the defendant of £48m was well above that. It followed that the defendant’s valuation was in breach of duty and negligent. The figure including the enterprise zone allowance should have been £45m. The figure supplied by the defendant of £63m was in breach of duty and negligent (see  and  of the judgment). Information or advice – Reliance on skill and judgment – Valuer Capita Alternative Fund Services (Guernsey) Ltd and another v Drivers Jonas: Queen’s Bench Division, Commercial Court (Mr Justice Eder): 9 September 2011 Goldstein v Levy Gee (a firm)  All ER (D) 12 (Jul) applied; Dennard v PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP  All ER (D) 192 (Apr) applied; K/S Lincoln v CB Richard Ellis Hotels Ltd (No 2)  All ER (D) 138 (Jun) applied; Singer and Friedlander Ltd v John D Wood & Co  EGD 569 applied; Merivale Moore plc v Strutt & Parker  All ER (D) 403 applied; South Australia Asset Management Corp v York Montague Ltd (sub nom Banque Bruxelles Lambert SA v Eagle Star Insurance Co Ltd)  3 All ER 365 applied; Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee  2 All ER 118 considered; Bolitho v City and Hackney Health Authority  4 All ER 771 considered. (3) The claimants were, in the circumstances, able to demonstrate that the advice played a real and substantial part in inducing them to invest in the site, which established the element of causation necessary (see  and  of the judgment). Sue Carr QC, Graham Chapman and Lucy Colter (instructed by Bond Pearce LLP) for the claimant. Roger Stewart QC, Sian Mirchandani (instructed by Berrymans Lace Mawer LLP) for the defendant.
It must be gratifying for Sir Scott Baker that in Joshua Rozenberg he has at least one champion for his review of the UK’s extradition laws. But Mr Rozenberg’s seems to be very much the minority view on matters of forum and our treaty with the US. Both Sir Scott and Mr Rozenberg make the mistake of conflating the issue as to whether a case could be tried in another country with whether it should be tried there. It is without question that the cases of the NatWest Three (of which I was one) and Gary McKinnon could properly be tried in the US, as Mr Rozenberg reports. The whole point of a forum test – which no British court has ever been allowed to apply – is to determine whether, in all the circumstances, it would be in the interests of justice for the trial to take place overseas. It is beyond belief that the review panel could state that none of these cases would have been decided differently if a forum test had been applied. How could they possibly know that? If any members of the Baker panel or Mr Rozenberg doubts the strength of feeling on this issue, they would do well to read the Hansard of the Commons debate on extradition, held in Westminster Hall on 24 November, led by Dominic Raab MP, a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. This issue is far from settled. David Bermingham, Goring, Oxfordshire
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