I have had a case recently involving a company which claims to offer legal services. I shall not name and shame the company here but with my client’s consent I will do so in another blog. However, I have been so appalled and enraged by the actions of this company that I think it is important to warn the public about using companies like this.
There are many of them out there. They cannot call themselves solicitors as to do so would be a criminal offence. They cannot represent you but they can call themselves law firms or legal companies and they can offer you legal advice and assistance. This is not the same as legal representation and it is perhaps difficult for members of the public to understand this. Only a solicitor or barrister (or properly qualified legal executive) can represent you in court proceedings. Anyone, including the person who delivers your pizza (no offence to pizza delivery people) can offer you legal advice and assistance.
In this particular case the company in question had offered legal advice and assistance to a mother who was involved in a case concerning her children and the local authority. We call this a care case. The company had access to legal documents including witness statements which name the children and which give details of the case including very private, confidential and personal details relating to the children and their mother. The company had no business retaining these documents after its involvement in the case had come to an end but it did. It also went on to send copies of these documents to other people who had no connection with this case at all (including me).
When I contacted the company and explained that these were confidential documents that they should disclose to anyone and indeed should not have kept copies of they ignored me. When I asked them to withdraw the documents they refuse to do so. Unfortunately, because this company is not regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority or any other legal body it isn’t accountable to any one and will probably get away with acting in this way.
What is the moral of this story? Family proceedings are very sensitive, very personal and very confidential. Please be careful who you trust with this information. Remember that one of the reasons solicitors are expensive is because we are heavily regulated and heavily insured. We are accountable for our actions and our mistakes. We can be punished by our professional body and by the courts if we behave unprofessionally or damage our client’s interests.  We can be ordered to pay compensation and we can be struck off and lose our profession.   These companies do not.
Be careful who you consult there are a lot of cowboys out there!