Her firm converted to ABS three months ago but the system has still not caught up with the new structure, says Bernadette Summers
It’s three months since we’ve become and ABS. This last month has been the most troublesome and yet the most positive. The problems I have run through are not major, but they are extremely frustrating. Again, I think this is purely because of the novelty of ABSs and the online registration system that the SRA have brought in for practising certificates etc. But a major disadvantage of being one of the first is that we encounter all the teething problems first hand.
On the plus side we are definitely busier. Although, perhaps, we have an image of being a more traditional firm, the fact we have generated considerable press for being “one of the first ABSs” has highlighted to our clients that traditional can also be modern.
We are still encountering problems in relations to conveyancing lending panels (see my previous diary entry: ‘Supervisors, accounts and lender panels’, Solicitors Journal 156/25, 26 June 2012). Regardless of whether or not the lenders panel online application form is set up for ABSs we are still having our application rejected pending further questions.
These questions all come back to three partners, which to them means three practising certificates, so the minute we enter three partners they request practising certificates and of course as a non-lawyer partner I do not have one.
The other issue we have encountered is that even when there is a question asked whether you are an ABS on the online application, the people processing the information do not pick up on our answer that we are one. Initially, they do a brief overview of the application. I know this for a fact, as on receipt of another frustrating letter from a lender requesting a certificate for me, I telephoned their lenders panel help line. They apologised but said that they have so many applications, they do not have time to go into each one in great detail (reassuring as they are so picky these days). All the information they require is in the notes and the documents required are attached but before they get to these they immediately request a practising certificate for me.
They looked at our application in more detail while I was on the telephone and confirmed that they had all the information they needed. The major frustration with this is that despite having given all the correct information on the original application, which in itself is very time consuming, we then have to verbally explain our situation, which is not always straightforward as most communication seems to be by email.
A copy of our ABS licence and a copy of my non-lawyer approval have been to date, enough information for our application to proceed. Hopefully, this situation will improve as and when they have more ABSs to deal with, but at the present time the ABS message isn’t getting through.
Various organisations (lenders, Legal Ombudsman etc) have told us that our details are not up to date and in one case that we are breaching the rules. I have investigated this and been in contact with the SRA and they have double checked on the relevant websites (including ours and Find A Solicitor) and confirmed that all our details are correct. It appears to me that these organisations are relying on information they historically have on file. Once we have explained our structural changes they seem to be satisfied and I am sure they must check. If this is happening to you too, you need to show clearly on the website and in your firm’s entry in My SRA, your SRA number, who is the COLP and who is the COFA.
Although I have not had time to investigate this further myself, there also appears to be a flaw within the MySRA system as although I have put all the relevant information with regards to all the solicitors and partners into our organisation details this does not appear to be automatically updating the individual’s details.
Our senior partner retired at the end of last year and he is marked as retired our end, but he has recently received a letter from the SRA (addressed to John Welch and Stammers) chasing him for his practising certificate.
I have suggested that he logs into his account on My SRA as he obviously needs to do something on a personal level. Make sure that all your solicitors, partners, and managers log into their MySRA account and do the same!