Saturday, September 30, 2006

One lawyer for the rich …

Following on from my post yesterday, it occurs to me that if the current trend continues, there will eventually be no legal aid solicitors left in private practice. Those unable to afford private legal fees will then have no alternative but to use the Law Centres and legal charities such as the Citizens Advice Bureau and Shelter. In many parts of the country, the ‘legal aid deserts’, this is already a reality,

Although I have the greatest admiration for Law Centres and the legal charities, the fact is that there will be different lawyers acting for the rich and for the poor. Inevitably the solicitors and caseworkers working for the law centres and legal charities will be paid less than those in private practice, and this will mean that most of the highflyers will be snapped up by the city firms and other large private practices.

With all its faults, under the old system, at least those eligible for legal aid could chose almost any solicitors firm, and the same solicitor could have a private fee paying and a legal aid caseload (and many did). Now a two tier system is developing. Although the solicitors in the ‘social’ sector may be (and probably will be) very good, I am unhappy about the idea of there being a divide in this way.

It is another symptom of the widening rift between those who can afford to pay for private services (schooling, health care, etc) and those who cannot. It is a very worrying trend.

It is ironic that this has come to pass under a labour government.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Legal aid again

I can remember, quite a long time ago, it could have been as much as 10 years, I went to a presentation by the Legal Aid Board (as it was then). I can’t remember why or what it was about, but what I do remember is a tirade which one of the speakers suddenly got up and gave against solicitors. “You have all had it soft” he said (or words to that effect), waving his finger at us, "there are going to be changes and you lot are going to have to get used to it." Well we didn’t actually, what happened was that we all stopped doing legal aid.

But that is just typical of the attitude that we all get from the (as it now is) Legal Services Commission. With a few honourable exceptions. they seem to think that we are a useless overqualified mercenary lot who need teaching a lesson.

This attitude has been prevalent for years, during which pay has been frozen, administration has been hiked up to frightening proportions, and most sensible lawyers have left for more remunerative work elsewhere. The only ones still doing legal aid are those with a strong pubic service ethic who believe in working for the community. But maybe even they won’t be around for long.

A new independent report shows that hundreds of legal aid firms are likely to be forced out of business as if the new reforms come in, legal aid work is not only going to be unprofitable, it will be loss making. So effectively solicitors will have to pay to do it! Even the most public spirited solicitor is likely to baulk at that one.

So the losers will be, not the solicitors – they are educated and have a good qualification, they are not going to suffer for long - but those who need their services. Where will they go for legal help when the last legal aid firm has gone bankrupt and its partners have taken jobs elsewhere? Who will fight for their rights? Only the law centres and the charities will be left. I wish them well.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Five days of hell

This weekend my office is going to be re-decorated.

Put simply like that it doesn’t sound very momentous. Just a short simple sentance. But it has been and will be a major operation. It has had to be planned like a military campaign. Nothing has been done to my room for years and years so it has a huge amount of stuff in it, as like all lawyers I tend to hang on to things (particularly paperwork) in case I need it later.

Already seven bin bags have gone to the tip. Old magazines. Pre Woolf pleadings precedents. Out of date telephone directories. Off they all went. Six plastic bags of out of date legal text books and old review copies of landlord and tenant books have gone to the charity shop down the road. And still there is more. Three more bin bags have been filled. And I haven’t done the bottom shelf yet, or the space under the spare desk. Or the space under my desk.

But the space under my desk will be done the very last of all, because that is where my computer lives. And it will have to be dismantled!! I will have to be without my computer for five whole days!!! How will I survive?? Of course the laptop will help (I am typing on the laptop now) but I suspect that the broadband will have to go off so I will be without internet access. A worrying thought.

So Friday is clearing and cleaning, the weekend and Monday will be painting and decorating, and Tuesday will be getting the new carpet laid, the blinds put up, the new light fitting fixed and (thank goodness) my computer put back together. And Wednesday will (hopefully) be back to work as usual.

And then my room will be lovely! But the period in between will be hell!

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Thank you Richard Susskind

I was thrilled and honoured today when I opened the Times legal supplement, to see that Richard Susskind had written about my web-site and this blog in his regular column in the Times, available here on the internet.

For those who have not heard of him, Richard Susskind is an academic and expert on legal technology. He regularly advises national governments and large legal firms, and has been IT Adviser to the Lord Chief Justice of England since 1998.

He is also an author and has written widely on legal IT. His book Transforming the Law was an enormous inspiration to me at the time I was setting up my online service Landlord-Law in 2001. To find someone of Richard’s stature writing about the very same thing I was contemplating, gave me courage and underlined my belief in what I was doing.

One idea he is particularly well known for is "The Grid", a model explaining the relationships between various fundamental concepts, including knowledge management, information systems, information technology and e-commerce (you can download a power point presentation on the grid here). Landlord-Law sits squarely in the top right hand corner of the grid, possibly a rather lonely position at present, but one which will no doubt become more crowded as time goes by.

Richard is a true visionary and I am sure that most if not all of his predictions will come to pass, if not now, at least at some stage in the future. With the enormous changes brought about by the internet at the start of this new twenty-first century, it is inevitable that the provision of legal services will also have to change. In its small way, my online service Landlord-Law is following one of the paths predicted by Richard, and showing that it is possible to succeed in a new method of legal delivery (even if you are a sole practitioner!).

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Monday, September 25, 2006

More problems with HMO licensing

It looks as if the additional administration associated with HMOs is putting landlords off landlording. A survey by RICS, reported here finds that landlords are either selling up or are just letting to three or less people, in order to avoid licensing.

Which would mean that although licensing is cutting down on rogue landlords, this is at the expense of having less properties available for rent. The groups most affected are students, particularly in London, and immigrants, who make up a large percentage of the HMO market.

There are several knock on effects. One will probably be that the trend for students to stay at home (started by the loss of grant income and imposition of course fees) will increase. Another is that there will be even more pressure on local authorities to find accommodation for those vulnerable members of society in priority need.

Many landlords are also deeply angry at the lack of consistency in the way local authorities are treating HMO licensing, particularly the enormous variation in the fees (for example see my HMO license fee list), and the standards imposed, recently commented on in an article in the Observer. For example the variation in the interpretation of the regulations which apparently require larger HMOs to have a wash hand basin in every unit of living accommodation. And indeed the fact that this requirement, which if interpreted strictly will result in enormous expense being incurred by many landlords for no apparent good reason, is being imposed in the first place.

It is unfortunate that these well meaning regulations, may turn out to have a negative effect, in that much needed accommodation will no longer be available to those who most need it.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Killer landlord

Be careful who you lodge with! Lodging with tunisian immigrant Abder-rahmen Dhaou cost Kynan Eldridge his life. The landlord stabbed him after an altercation about some rent believed to be as little as £50.

Much to Mr Eldridge's family's distress Dhaou only got a sentance of three years, but the Judge recommended that he be deported at the end of his sentance.

You can read more about it here. Mind you I suspect killer landlords are rare, but it still pays to be very careful who you share lodgings with.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Eco housing in Fenland

I was pleased to see a report on the internet recently saying that over 100 environmentally friendly houses are to be built in Fenland.

Not only that, but the builders will be trialling different building methods so scientists can measure the environmental impact of each construction method used and the energy efficiency of each building. This information will then be used to help other developers reduce the impact of their work on the environment.

Would that there were more initiatives like this!

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Landlords – reasons to be cheerful

An interesting article in the Observer this week, discusses the upward trend in tenant demand for rented property. To summarise these comprise the following:

Immigration. This is where the biggest demand is – the government Actuaries Department estimates the average annual net immigration in coming years will be 145,000 a year, the Observer suggest the figure may be considerably higher. As most immigrants will be unable to buy their own property and are ineligible for social housing, their only option is renting in the private sector. Apparently demand from immigrants could boost the private rented sector by 55,000 homes every year.

A fall in the number of first time buyers. It seems the average age of the first time buyer is now 34 – before this most young professionals prefer to have the flexibility of rented property, plus many of them are paying off student loans and cannot afford to buy anyway. Also people are choosing to marry and start families later.

Overall this has resulted in a huge increase in the number of households. A large part of this is the demand from immigrants, but there is also more demand than formerly from the indigenous population.

The government is not willing to fund the building of more social housing, or help finance owner occupiers by re-introducing MIRAS. So there is a real need for private landlords to meet the growing demand from tenants.

It is not surprising therefore that a recent report in The Times states that the buy to let industry is now one of the UK’s ten fastest-growing industries, alongside computer services and management consultancy, and produced a £45 billion increase in income between 1992 and 2004, a rise of 120 per cent.

All good news for landlords.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006


I can't help feeling that the use of the word 'respect' by the government is going a little too far.

For example I learn from the most recent issue of LAG magazine that there is not only a 'Respect committee' on the cabinet, but also a 'Respect Team', and a 'Respect Squad' (ten senior practitioners who can be 'called in' to help local agencies tackle anti social behaviour). When I first read this I did wonder if LAG were having us on, but sadly it appears not.

By the way, the respect boys are getting tough - plans have been announced to cut housing benefit for households evicted for anti social behviour who refuse to engage in rehabilitation. Pwhah!

That happened in June. On 17 August The Respect Standard for Housing Management was launched, announced here, and landlords can sign up to it here. I wonder how many have.

There is even a 'Respect' website. I suppose it is an attempt to make contact with the disaffected, which ought to be a good thing, but somehow everything this government does is tainted by spin, and nobody really believes anything any more.

But I still love the song by Aretha Franklin. Listen to Aretha here, performed by Pomme and Kelly. Respect!

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