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LIVERPOOL's legal community has been rocked by a Solicitor's Complaints Bureau (SCB) emergency intervention over 18-office legal aid firm Deacon Goldrein Green - the biggest ever law firm collapse involving the bureau.
The fate of the firm's lawyers and staff hangs in the balance this week as the appointed intervening firms get to grips with the work for almost 30,000 clients and investigate the financial problems leading to the crash.
Deacon Goldrein Green's bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland, says it tried to help the firm overcome its problems, even to the extent of supporting any restructuring. "Regrettably our efforts have proved unsuccessful due to circumstances beyond our control," says a spokeswoman.
The sheer size of the firm means dissolving the partnership and the break-up of the practice is likely, says the SCB. Redundancies among the 650 staff and 15 partners are possible.
The decision to intervene followed an emergency meeting between the SCB, the Law Society's adjudication and appeals committee, and solicitor Eric Taylor of local firm Temperly Taylor.
The SCB says it appointed Taylor to manage client matters and to act as its liaison officer as an emergency measure. SCB assistant director Andrew Finch is involved.
SCB director Veronica Lowe says: "It was imperative that we responded with swift action in this matter.
"We have to safeguard the public's faith in the law and their confidence in measures to protect them."
SCB head of public relations, Jayne Farrin, says: "It is possibly the largest intervention the bureau has undertaken."
She says the size of the practice means it cannot be dealt with as a disposal, where it would be taken on by another firm. Staff are unlikely to be in the office this week.
Liverpool Law Society has taken swift action to help clients who fear the firm's closure will threaten their court cases, conveyancing, compensation claims or family cases.
It instantly set up an emergency telephone help line run by volunteers and faxed the local courts to inquire whether any clients would be unrepresented. It has also used its inter-firm referral scheme to assist clients whose urgent cases need representation.
Andrew Holroyd, Liverpool society president, says: "Obviously it is a shock when a big firm like this goes down. It is a worry when so many clients have been left in the lurch. We are very disappointed and upset that this has happened."
The staff could be employed in other firms, or in any reconstituted parts of the firm, he says.
David Deacon, the firm's co-founder who left two years ago, says: "I'm just very saddened for partners, staff and clients alike. In human terms it's a tragedy."
He says a legal dispute between him and his ex-partners is now settled and is unrelated to the collapse.
The intervening firms are Bermans, Cuff Roberts, Bell Lamb & Joynson and Davis Blank Furniss.