Law in Action! What’s it like working in the Student Law Office?

Natalie and Charlotte are final year law students who work in the Student Law Office as part of their MLaw degree at Northumbria University, Newcastle. In the Student Law Office, students work in teams of six (known as “firms”). Different firms specialise in different areas of law. Natalie works in a Civil Litigation firm and Charlotte works in a Business & Commercial firm. Here, they reflect on their experiences to date….

Natalie Richards (left) and Charlotte Stapleton (right)

Natalie Richards (left) and Charlotte Stapleton (right)

Why did you choose your firm?

Natalie (Civil Litigation): During numerous placements and throughout university I discovered a real interest in civil law. I really enjoyed the type of work undertaken by a civil firm and I was excited at the prospect of being able to engage in the variety of work contained within the civil law remit.

Charlotte (Business & Commercial): I wish to practice in a commercial firm in the future and I thought that this firm could provide me with much needed experience in this area.

What have you found most surprising about your area of law?

Natalie: When I mentioned I had opted for a civil law firm because of the option to engage in a variety of work, I had not envisaged just how diverse the cases would be from each other. Nobody in my firm, as of yet, has had a case even remotely similar to anybody else’s. All of the cases dealt with in my firm have been really specialised areas of law which has really surprised me. The standard breach of contract claim I had envisaged dealing with, at least once, has so far not ensued.

Charlotte: When working in a business & commercial firm, the expectation is that the clients for the most part will be stereotypical ‘businessmen’ – i.e. people dressed in suits etc. However this is not the case at all! We have a real variety of clients who come in for business-related advice and that came as a surprise to me.

What do you think sets your firm apart from others?

Natalie: The variety of work definitely sets the civil firms apart from the others because it gives us a wide scope of experience in many different disciplines. We are often involved in specialist areas of law that we have not come across before. This is very exciting and always keeps us on our toes!

Civil students also have the opportunity to draft court documents and witness statements, prepare contractual agreements, be participant to negotiations between parties and even (where appropriate) represent clients in court!

Charlotte: Being in the business firm offers you opportunities to go to various events. These events are excellent networking opportunities and can be beneficial for commercial awareness. One such event we attended was the hosted at the Newcastle Business & IP Centre. This was the ‘Inspiring Entrepreneurs’ event, which featured a live link-up to the British Library in London where a panel of business leaders answered questions from the audience and via twitter. It was interesting to learn how the various entrepreneurs started out and overcame any obstacles they faced.

We also have been given the opportunity and funding to travel down to London to give advice to our clients! This is a really exciting opportunity.

How many cases do you have on at a time?

Natalie: Typically I have had two cases running at any one time, although my case load has varied from three to one in accordance with the progression, complexity and workload of each case.

Charlotte: Usually students have two cases running at one time. Even if you have a couple of cases, you can manage your own time and set your own deadlines and as a result have more independence in your cases.

What type of cases do you deal with?

Natalie: There is such a wide variety of cases that my firm and I have dealt with, including issues such as planning, judicial review, negligence and wills. This variety has enabled me to gain knowledge and experience in lots of different areas of law.

Charlotte: There is no set type of case that comes through the door – they can cover a wide range of issues such as intellectual property, setting up a business, directors’ duties, websites, various types of organisations etc.

How have you found juggling SLO with your other responsibilities?

Natalie: To start with I found this quite challenging as I prioritised my work in the SLO, in order to meet the relevant deadlines. However, during my second term in the SLO I have managed to balance my time spent in SLO more equally with my other subjects, although naturally there will always be peaks where SLO will take priority again.

Charlotte: I have found this manageable. Unlike some other firms which deal with contentious issues, there are no set limitation dates which affect our cases. Nevertheless we work hard to prepare timely advice for our clients.

Each week you have a “firm meeting”. What is a typical firm meeting like?

Natalie: Most firm meetings, either at the beginning or end, entail a run through of everybody’s cases and talking through any problems we have encountered with our cases during the previous week. The body of each meeting varies from debating, civil procedure quizzes and games, looking at ethics and professional conduct and working on reflection, which has, embarrassingly, even involved my firm watching and providing feedback on my initial client interviews.

Charlotte: Firm meetings include discussing our cases and next steps, focusing on reflections, discussing articles that can be useful in reflections and visits out of the SLO such as to the Newcastle Business and IP Centre.

You also get the opportunity to lead a firm meeting? What happens in student led firm meetings?

Natalie: There are no specific topics set, although it must be SLO or civil related. They are likely to involve: reflections, debates, discussing articles, civil law games and quizzes and professional conduct.

Charlotte: Firm meetings can be on anything the student wishes. They can be focused specifically on SLO – e.g. reflection practice or organising personal files, or geared more towards ‘business’ and focus on developing our commercial awareness and professional conduct skills.

What have you learnt the most since the start of the SLO?

Natalie: I have learnt a great amount since starting in the SLO from opening, running and closing files to legal researching and writing. Overall, I have learnt how to apply the law in practice and how to tailor my research and advice to the client’s specific needs. This has enabled me to achieve the best outcome for the client.

Charlotte: Working in the SLO, you are no longer looking at the law for an academic purpose, but to help real clients. As a result of this I have learnt how to apply the law to real scenarios and am able to give better advice to clients in the context of their needs.

Would you wish to continue in this area in the future?

Natalie: I have really enjoyed the work I have undertaken in this area and I would definitely like to continue with these types of cases in future. Civil law tends to crop up in most other disciplines therefore I am positive this will not be my last encounter with civil law!

Charlotte: I would definitely like to continue in this area in the future. Law firms are a business and working in the Business & Commercial firm has helped me gain commercial awareness and better knowledge in general from discussing client cases in context of the client’s needs and the needs of their business.

How do you think it’s prepared you for a training contract?

Natalie: I’ve been given a lot of responsibility and independence in running my cases and I have managed my own cases from start to finish and met all of the deadlines without any prompting from my supervisor. I feel that this experience has been invaluable because it reflects what I will be doing as a trainee. Furthermore, having gained practical experience in how a client file is ran and organised will definitely provide useful when starting as a trainee.

Charlotte: Working in the SLO teaches you time management and how to manage and develop a case. It also helps with organisational skills as you have to keep your personal and client files up to date in line with professional practice. Following office procedure helps you prepare for the workplace environment and seeing professional conduct issues in practice helps you to identify them and learn how to tackle the issues.

This blog post was written by Natalie Richards and Charlotte Stapleton. 

Upon graduation, Natalie hopes to secure a training contract with a commercial firm. However, in the interim she will join her family business, developing her commercial awareness by gaining a solid understanding of how an international company is run. She strongly believes that this will make her a better lawyer.  Charlotte also hopes to secure a training contract with a commercial firm. In the meantime she plans to gain work experience through working as a paralegal or legal assistant in a company with a range of specialities in order to give herself a broad range of experience.

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Don’t be caught out by fake business registers!

Have you ever registered your business name on a so called ‘legally protected business register’?

The government has recently warned that many people have received unsolicited invitations from companies offering services to help them protect their business or trade name in return for a fee.

These invitations are often official-looking and many people feel obliged to register with them to protect their business name. The fees are greatly in excess of official fees. There is usually a register, but sadly that register has no legal status whatsoever. It is merely a list. Often the small print on the invoice will say this, but once fees are paid it is too late.

There are sadly many companies purporting to be official UK company directories/registers. Companies House is the only official register for companies. It is a reliable and legitimate register of information regarding all registered companies in the UK. A company registered with any another “register” will not be considered a registered company.

If you are concerned about someone copying your trade name or logo, you should consider protecting it as a registered trade mark. Please be aware that the only official place to register a trade mark in the UK is via the Intellectual Property Office. The Intellectual Property Office has recently taken action against companies such as “Patent and Trademark Office” and “Trade Mark Renewal Service Ltd”, who were sending businesses letters telling them to renew their trade marks.

The Intellectual Property Office is the only official body which can issue a reminder to renew a UK trade mark. If you receive a reminder to renew your trade mark it will look like this:

IPO

If you receive a misleading invoice the Intellectual Property Office would like you to let them know. Contact them at: misleadinginvoices@ipo.gov.uk.

Additionally, there is no official register for copyright protection. Copyright works are protected simply because they are copyright works, without any need to undergo formal registration. Websites offering registration of your copyright will be a scam website and will not have any legal standing.

So, if in doubt please contact Companies House or the Intellectual Property Office, or seek the advice of a solicitor. It may save you unnecessary costs. The Student Law Office has advised clients in the past on this issue – please see this page for more details of our free service.

This blog post was brought to you by Alex Tomlinson and Bethanny Bamber.

Alex (left) and Bethanny (right) are both currently studying the MLaw degree at Northumbria University and are working in a Business & Commercial firm within the Student Law Office. In the future, Alex plans to secure a training contract and hopes to specialise in intellectual property. Bethanny has recently been offered a training contract in the consumer litigation department of a high street firm in Carlisle.

AlexBeth

The New Consumer Rights Bill: What’s the Impact on Businesses?

This blog does not constitute legal advice. It provides a brief summary of our understanding of some of the current proposed changes under the Consumer Rights Bill; however the Bill’s provisions could be subject to change before it becomes law. If you require legal advice on the Consumer Rights Bill and the affect compliance will have on you or your business you should contact a legal professional.

On the 12th June 2013 the Government produced a draft bill that will implement the biggest reform of consumer law in over a decade. The aim of the bill is to consolidate, modernise, clarify the law and enhance consumer protection. This will obviously have an impact on businesses and they will need to prepare for the changes before the bill comes into force. The government has announced that they will release guidance in April of 2015 in order to help with this process, and it will be available through the Trading Standards Institute Business Companion website.

The current regime

Currently Consumer law is spread across a number of different statues, as well as being outdated and the use of definitions is inconsistent. This means consumers are often confused about their rights, and there is a high administrative and compliance burden on businesses.

Amongst other provisions, at present, any goods provided must be of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. For any services provided under a contract, the services have to be carried out with reasonable care and skill.

The definition of satisfactory quality has been quite clear in a number of situations, what hasn’t been clear is at what point the consumer can reject goods if they are unsatisfactory. It has also been unclear as to whether repairs or replacements need to occur before the consumer can claim other remedies, such as returning the goods and receiving their money back.  These matters will be clarified when the new bill comes into force, as will the law relating to digital content (musical downloads, film downloads etc.).

The new Consumer Rights Bill – main changes

The consumer rights bill will introduce new “Core Consumer Rights”, these are:

  • Right to clear and honest information before you buy.
  • Right to get what you pay for.
  • Right that goods and digital content are fit for purpose and services are provided with reasonable care and skill.
  • Right that faults in what you buy will be put right free of charge, or a refund or replacement provided.

These core consumer rights have been detailed in the Consumer Rights Bill: Statement on Policy Reform and Responses to Pre-Legislative Scrutiny which can be found here.

These core rights reflect many of the same rights that the previous law provided for, and the Bill retains the satisfactory quality requirements from the previous legislation. The Bill also incorporates the current legislation on services, which requires services to be provided with reasonable care and skill.

Some of the main differences in the new Consumer Rights Bill are:

  • The Bill will only apply to business to consumer transactions. Contracts that are between two businesses or two consumers may still be subject to other rules and regulations however.
  • The rules regarding when a consumer can reject goods that are not of a satisfactory quality/fit for purpose will be clarified.
  • The law relating to digital content will now be clarified by the addition of Chapter 3 to the Bill.

Business to consumer transactions

A consumer is defined in the Bill. The definition makes it clear that the consumer has to be acting wholly or mainly outside of their normal trade, business, craft or profession. The trader or provider of the product must be acting for purposes relating to their trade, business, craft or profession.  This will clarify the position of exactly who a consumer, and when they are purchasing from a business. This also satisfies one of the intentions of the reform – to use definitions with consistency.

Remedies for faulty goods

The Bill will clarify the remedies available to a consumer if goods are not fit for purpose or not of satisfactory quality.

The consumer will have a short term right to reject the goods within 30 days (or a shorter period in the case of perishable goods). They could alternatively (within or after the first 30 days) be able to insist on a repair or a replacement of the goods.

If the consumer makes a request for a repair or replacement within the initial 30 day period then the 30 days is paused for a period of time known as the “waiting period”.  After the request has been fulfilled the consumer then has  seven days , or  the remaining period of the original return period with the “waiting period” added (whichever is longer) to reject the goods.

If a repair/replacement does not fix the fault, or if another fault occurs, the consumer may still be able to insist on a reduction in the price or to exit the contract and get a refund (even where this is outside the initial 30 day period). This is known as the final right to reject. Sometimes the amount of the refund will be reduced depending on the type of goods concerned and how long the consumer has been able to use them for.

The link to the relevant government guidance is: http://discuss.bis.gov.uk/consumerrightsbill/what-are-my-rights-under-the-draft-bill-when-acquiring-goods/#9

Digital content

Previously consumers had to show that buying digital content was a contract for a good or a service. This was difficult in relation to digital downloads. Now that digital content is included in the Bill, it will just have to be demonstrated that it is of an unsatisfactory quality in order to entitle the buyer to a repair or refund. The new bill also allows a consumer to claim for damage to a computer or laptop caused by a download of the unsatisfactory good.

Some examples

The government has provided examples of changes that the Bill will make to consumers, these are as follows:

You purchase a faulty toaster for £20 but after three and a half weeks you find that it no longer works. Currently, under the law, it is not clear whether you have a right to return the goods and get a refund because it is not clear if three and a half weeks is a “reasonable time”. Under the proposed reform you will have a clear right to a full refund as less than 30 days have passed.

 You buy a CD but when played it jumps erratically between tracks or gets stuck. You try to return it but the retailer says that they don’t offer refunds on CDs. What are your rights? Under current legislation your rights are unclear, but the new law will make it clear that for faulty digital content bought on a tangible medium such as a CD, you are entitled to a refund within 30 days of purchase.

More examples can be found here in Annex D.

What this means for businesses

The government has proposed that there will be a saving for businesses, as the Consumer Rights Bill is much clearer than the current legislation and therefore drafting returns policies and training staff should be simpler. This saving however, will be over a number of years rather than initial savings and it may take businesses a number of years to see the benefits. There will, however, be costs for businesses in training staff in the new returns policies and consumer rights and changing terms and conditions to comply with the new laws, which will be an upfront cost.

Additionally, those trading in digital goods will have to consider their returns policies much more carefully, in order to accommodate for the new legislation.

The bill has been set a provisional date of 1st October 2015 to come in to force. This leaves businesses with plenty of time to start considering their terms and conditions. This, however, may be better held off until the government guidance is released for businesses in April 2015. This guidance will be available here.

Ultimately, it is good for businesses to be aware of the incoming changes so they can plan ahead. It may be best to start putting aside a small amount for legal fees, so accurate and concise advice can be provided for the exact impact on a particular business.

Sources:

A draft version of the Bill can be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/361909/bis-14-1119-implementing-the-consumer-rights-bill.pdf

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/274787/bis-13-916-draft-consumer-rights-bill-governemnt-response-to-consultations-on-consumer-rights.pdf

http://discuss.bis.gov.uk/consumerrightsbill/what-are-my-rights-under-the-draft-bill-when-acquiring-goods/#9

This blog post was written by Vicky Pridmore. Vicky is currently an M Law Student at Northumbria University and working in a business and commercial firm in the Student Law Office. Due to this experience, and previous work experience, she has developed an interest in the commercial world. On graduation she hopes to secure a training contract that will allow her to further her interest in both national and international commercial matters.