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When discussions become heated and a local law firm closes...

View profile for Richard Carter
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Sometimes the smallest of decisions can spark the fiercest debates in law firms. It’s a year since we changed how we address our formal letters. I had a small group of sensible people in to discuss alternatives. It got a bit heated. “Dear Sir” was rightly deemed old school, and misogynist,  “Dear Sir and/or Madam” too old fashioned. Christian names were felt to be a bit too presumptuous when dealing with unknown third parties. It became clear this was going to be a minefield. My suggestion (“oi oi saveloy”) was turned down as vegan unfriendly. “What’s up pussycat?” was suggested- this one had legs because whilst it was pet inclusive but sadly failed as it felt to be a tad unprofessional. “Whey Aye pet” was just too Geordie for us- we’re Southern softie solicitors after all, not Ant and Dec. A litigators  partner’s suggestion of “Dear Shitface” was felt, on balance, to be “unfriendly” as was his suggestion that instead of “Yours sincerely” we replace it with “Sincerely but with the poison of a 1000 vipers”. Litigators are just a different, hostile breed to the rest of us. We’ve settled on “Dear All.” Friendly, inclusive and best of all, like me, very short. 


Another one bites the dust – 2 weeks ago the local legal grapevine swept with news that the SRA had intervened in a local law Firm and shut it down. By the time the notice appeared on the website indicating the SRA had obtained an order because of concerns about potential dishonesty of the owner I had received 3 internal calls alerting me to the news and 2 external ones! The first thought is concern for the staff there – in the small legal world everyone knows someone who works there and whether they will be ok. Secondly there’s the client fallout – various clients, agents, and others trying to ring other law firms to find a new home for their work. Lots of distressed people trying to find a new lawyer often at the 11th hour and without being able to grab their existing file. Then the speculation starts. How much is missing? Where did it go? No-one knows the answers of course but that doesn’t stop the rumour mill! The surprise consensus is always why has it has taken so long??. Every law firm in the area felt it was only a question of time. Perhaps the SRA, instead of looking at risk data, dashboards, and documents should send a questionnaire out to all the legal secretaries in the local area asking “Give us the name of the dodgiest local firm in your area”. Ignoring the temptation to come up with your local rivals I suspect everyone would come up with the same one or two. That said when I joined my current Firm one of the Partners told me about a less than honest Firm in the locality and “they will be lucky to see the year out”. It was in fact 17 years before the Firm closed when the sole partner finally did a runner to North Africa. There’s always bad apples in every barrel sadly.