President's Letter (October 2007)

Hip Hip Hooray or Hip Hip Boo?

With HIPS now being phased in, it may still take some time to discover the impact they have on the profession and in particular, the High Street firms. Conveyancers have been fighting for some considerable time to get around the problem of Estate Agents being the “first stop”. My personal opinion is that HIPS will cause this to happen even more, especially as some Estate Agents are already advertising that they will be providing HIPS free – they, of course, can afford to do this as the present cost is a relatively small percentage of their usual fees – unlike ours!

There will of course be many firms in the sector who will welcome what they envisage as the arrival of new bulk work, but I can only feel sorry that this is another factor leaving the public not having complete freedom of choice over their solicitors because of financial incentives being offered with strings obviously attached. The greatest pity is that I really do not think that HIPS will either speed up the conveyancing process or reduce the number of abortive transactions. I have kept a mental note over the last year of the reasons why transactions have aborted (in any event, a surprisingly small number) and I do not think any of them was because of anything that was discovered at a later stage which would now be revealed by HIPS.

As to speed, we all know that the real problems are the mortgagees and the chain. The quickest purchase transaction I have conduct was when I received instructions on Tuesday afternoon and the client moved in on Friday afternoon of the same week. The main reason was that he was a cash buyer and there was no chain. It was not even as if the speed of the transaction was helped by new technology such as e-mail etc; it took place in 1978 before we even had faxes. In fact, part of the transaction was carried out by telex (anyone remember that?) as the client was American and did not fly into London until the Thursday morning!

In May, I attended the Solicitors Regulation Authority Roadshow at Capitol Towers when Peter Williamson, the Chairman, introduced a number of staff including Anthony Townsend, the Chief Executive and Michael Calvert, Head of Forensic Investigations. Anthony has an impressive history of being Chief Executives of a number of bodies – so one wonders how long he will be with the SRA! Michael Calvert explained to us that, although the SRA do have to give prior notice of investigatory visits, this can be done in urgent cases merely by handing over a letter as they arrive at your office and, so far as interviews are concerned, goodness me – of course not - PACE guidelines do not have to be followed. So, guys and gals when the SRA come breaking down your door – sorry, knocking at the door with a white envelope, be cautious when answering questions because they are not going to give you a clue as to what they might be looking for. Apparently though, disgruntled ex-employees are a common source of information, so mentally check if you have any!

Joking apart, we all know that Regulation is necessary and, indeed, essential if we are to pride ourselves on being a profession. What I hope is that Peter Williamson (still I believe a good man although poacher turned gamekeeper!) and the other solicitor members of the Board will keep in mind and relay to the lay members some of the difficulties of being in practice. What we need and are entitled to is a fair and not oppressive regime. The cost of regulation is also a worry and something about which I hope The Law Society will do as much as they can to keep under control. I also believe that The Law Society has a great opportunity to help members by providing professional ethics advice and guidance. This is something I have already taken up with Chancery Lane and hope to take it further with Andrew Holroyd when he is in Cardiff next month.

In July, I was delighted to accept my first dinner invitation from the Pontypridd & Rhondda Law Society. The Secretary, Stuart George, did a valiant job organising the event and conducting the evening basically on his own because he does not have a President! With my Confederation hat on, I do feel that it is a pity that a Society with such a long history should be at risk of disappearing through a lack of people prepared to give time as officers. Come on, somebody!!

I was also delighted that we were able to supply the Cardiff Lawyers Rugby Team with an ample supply of the Society’s ties to help them go to Paris for the Lawyers’ Will Cup in suitably professional apparel – a small step to prevent the extinction of the tie!

Please let me know if you have any issues which you would like me to raise with Andrew Holroyd when he is in Cardiff on 10th October.

Anyway, back to my proper job, it seems that Brasseries in the Bay are rather like buses and bananas – they come along in bunches. Café Rouge has opened on Mermaid Quay, where Scallops used to be right on the waterfront so the location is great. Café Rouge is, of course, a franchise with branches scattered all over England and Wales. The menu has the standard French dishes that you would expect and some nice ideas, like individual tartes and quiches. The quality is as you would expect from a good franchise, consistent and very acceptable and a good French atmosphere has been created out of the unit. It is perfectly good and well-priced but I think the nearby Garcon has that certain “je ne sais pas” which the hands-on effect of a local owner will always have over a franchise.

Richard Fisher, President

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