Lawyers have a duty to advise clients not only on strict legal issues, but also on matters that may impact on personal and business decisions.
Last November, the Law Society's competence regime came into effect. This prevents law practices from being involved in Discrete Investment Business (DIB) unless they have a suitably qualified member of staff. The stringency of these requirements, together with Solicitors' Investment Business Rules (SIBR), has meant that few law firms have met this criteria.
Consequently, some practices have elected not to be involved, a decision that may prove to be short-sighted.
Recently, some firms have experienced difficulties for not complying with this regime; one solicitor was successfully sued by a client for not taking pension benefits into consideration in a divorce settlement.
Due to the increasing diversity and complexity of financial services, it is unlikely that many law firms will have the experience to advise clients satisfactorily when legal matters involve financial considerations. But it would be easy for practices to become involved in DIB inadvertently and this could lead to problems.
One solution would be to appoint a suitable permitted third party, such as a qualified independent financial adviser. This straightforward option requires little formality and would relieve practices of responsibility compliance with DIB requirements.
There are a number of areas which have potential financial implications for lawyers:
long term care advice to the elderly concerning provisions for long term care and consequent social security rules;
the tax advantages of funding via small self-administered pension schemes for business proprietors considering commercial property purchase;
tax and the consequences of particular investments when drafting wills;
mortgage investments in situations where they may be considered unwise, which may arise during conveyancing;
personal injury claims needing to be structured to protect the lifetime needs of a plaintiff and to minimise tax liability;
non-income producing investments which should be considered for trusts to avoid or reduce tax liability;
the importance of independent financial advice for clients who have won damages;
"roll over" or retirement relief advice for clients disposing of businesses. Lawyers should also be aware of phased or deferred retirement, together with ways of improving annuity rates which may also involve estate planning;
business loans effected by a bank which may have expensive insurance which can often be rearranged without penalty at a much lower cost;
corporate life or critical illness cover in context with partnerships or shareholder agreement, which should be considered by business clients who run partnerships or limited companies;
divorce settlements involving pensions and endowment policies.
Over the last decade, the provision of financial services has changed almost beyond recognition. It is now a highly complex field, with the larger firms employing highly qualified specialists as well as experts in the research and development sectors.
Reputable firms with independent financial advisers can be an indispensable asset to lawyers, who should seriously consider the value of these firms when advising clients.
A guide on financial services for solicitors is available from: Julian Telling, Professional Services, Falcon Group, Falcon House, 41 Triangle West, Clifton, Bristol BS8 lER. Tel: 0117-929-1012.