Financial Services. Maximise the commercial breaks

The theme of the programme for this year's SIFA conference, to be held at Plaisterer's Hall, London EC2 on 2 October, is the interface between legal and financial services work. The conference is designed not only for financial services specialists, but also for their legal colleagues.

Fee-earner awareness of financial services matters is becoming a big issue. Solicitors have been sued for neglecting to take account of the value of pensions on divorce and for failing to ensure that mortgages arranged by building societies for conveyancing clients are accompanied by appropriate life or critical illness insurances. In addition, trustees have been criticised by the courts for failing to exercise proper supervision of trust investments.

Looking at the positive aspect of these developments, John Eaton of Lupton Fawcett described in SIFA's recent training video how firms which succeed in integrating financial services with their legal work can reap enormous benefit in terms of client retention and the creation of a regular flow of supplementary income.

It is Eaton who opens the conference with an investigation of business opportunities. On the video he says that firms which do not provide financial services are likely to find it increasingly difficult to maintain the loyalty of their private clients. To do this Lupton Fawcett tries to observe two golden rules: namely that no client should ever leave the firm's offices intestate and that no client should leave with a cheque for more than £5,000.

What is often overlooked is that firms which dispense large cheques to clients without alerting them to the importance of obtaining independent financial advice are almost certainly exposing their clients to a predatory approach by the tied salesperson employed by their bank or building society. Eaton says this is something firms have a duty to protect their clients from.

The experience of firms which have embarked upon financial services work is of immense value to other firms, whether or not they have decided to develop an in-house capability. To maximise the opportunity for networking and interactivity, alternate sessions at this year's SIFA conference will take the form of syndicates or workshops. There are 12 such smaller groupings, from which delegates are invited to select four that are relevant to their needs. Some of the subjects covered are:

Compliance and regulation, with Bob Butler and Alison Matthews of the Law Society responding to questions from delegates.

Pensions and divorce, with leading exponent Robin Ellison of Hammond Suddards examining the practicalities of earmarking and the prospects for pension-splitting.

The various alternative means of providing long-term care for the elderly.

The proposed changes to the parameters for investments by trustees.

Tax planning in advance of the general election.

In addition, George Clark, chair of the Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre, will be describing how Scottish solicitors have succeeded in packaging conveyancing with extras like estate agency and other financial services.

Successive delegations of English solicitors (including Richard Hegarty of the Property and Commercial Services Committee – see The Lawyer last week) are trooping north to acquaint themselves with the Scottish experience at a time when the need to take a leaf out of the Scottish book has never been clearer.

The question is whether English solicitors can overcome their reticence and develop the necessary commercial instincts.

The conference will be concluded by Sue Stapely, erstwhile head of PR at the Law Society, whose valediction is significantly entitled “Survival is Optional”.

Application forms can be obtained from SIFA at DX 30708 Epsom 01372 721172.