Spotlight on….Greg Whitehead, Licensed Insolvency Practitioner

We were delighted to be visited recently by Greg Whitehead, who told us about his work as a Licensed Insolvency Practitioner. Insolvency work is a very interesting field for our students, and we’d like to thank Greg for taking the time to come and explain more about this fascinating subject. This is what we learned about Greg and his work:

Can you tell us more about your background? 

I’m a Chartered Certified Accountant, a Licensed Insolvency Practitioner and a Fellow of the Association of Business Recovery Professionals. I’m a Director at Northpoint, a boutique North East professional practice providing business turnaround, restructuring, insolvency and forensic accounting services.

I trained and worked for KPMG and Deloitte from 1990 to 2004, when I went on my own to form Northpoint.

What type of work do you deal with?

My main work involves dealing with formal insolvency appointments, acting for SMEs in Company Administrations, Liquidations and Company Voluntary Arrangements. I have worked with companies from a diverse range of sectors including leisure (restaurants, pubs and clubs), construction industry and related businesses, charitable/not for profit, engineering, oil and gas supply chain, manufacturing, professional firms, digital/technological, transport/haulage.

What is your approach to this type of work? 

I apply a very pragmatic and practical approach. When I am asked to provide an opinion on a situation, I like to emphasise that the matter can often be resolved without the need for a formal insolvency, particularly if issues are identified and acted upon at an early stage.

Farewell from the 2015/16 firms!

It’s that time of year again where students who have been working in the Student Law Office begin to prepare for life after university. Following on from Abbie’s welcome post in November, it seems fitting to reflect on the work we have completed this year – and what a year it’s been!

Campus - CCE

We have been dealing with queries ranging from website policies, terms and conditions and intellectual property issues from many different clients including an engineering business, a sole trader service provider and even a university business clinic.

Our time in the Student Law Office has given us an exciting insight into commercial practice. We have also reflected on how our work may have long-lasting benefits for clients who are able to invest funds elsewhere and continue to progress in a thriving business community.

The experience has undoubtedly enhanced our career prospects by providing us with a year of unique practical legal experience and an increased level of commercial awareness.

On a personal note, we felt an amazing sense of achievement when we saw that our client has successfully implemented policies we had drafted onto their company website.

Below, some of our fellow students reflect on their experience and what they have enjoyed the most.

Robyn Heeran says:

“Throughout this year in the SLO I have really enjoyed the hands-on learning experience. Knowing that a client is depending on you to advise them on real life issues ASAP is really motivating and rewarding.”

Perri Byrne says:

“I have really enjoyed working with real clients, especially being given the responsibility to hand and manage their cases.”

As well as our client work we have been lucky enough to be involved in the Student Law Office in other exciting ways, including:

  • travelling to London to give intellectual property advice to a client;
  • leading our own firm meetings (this included playing Jenga and Pass the Parcel!);
  • networking at the Inspiring Entrepreneurs event;
  • receiving a visit from a member of the University of Strathclyde’s Law Clinic; and
  • raising an enormous amount of food for Newcastle West’s foodbank!

The experience has been truly unforgettable and the lessons learnt will stay with us throughout our professional lives. We hope that next year’s students and clients have an experience as enjoyable and rewarding as ours!

This blog post was written by Elena Cross and Dan Watson:

Elena and Dan


Elena is a final year MLaw student currently working in a business and commercial firm in the Student Law Office. Elena has secured a training contract with Bond Dickinson LLP in Newcastle for September 2016 and is excited to get started! In the meantime, Elena will continue to work as a bridal consultant in a wedding dress shop and enjoys spending her free time cooking and socialising.

Dan is a final year MLaw student who is currently advising commercial clients in the Student Law Office. He has aspirations to become a commercial lawyer and outside of work has passion for playing and watching sport.

 

Solicitors and the Code of Conduct

The legal profession encompasses many different roles and the term ‘lawyer’ can be used to mean a plethora of job titles. In simple terms, there are two key types of lawyer: barristers and solicitors. This blog post is solely focused on solicitors, and the varying roles commonly found within a typical solicitors’ office. Legal professionals, such as solicitors are overseen by governing bodies and must adhere to various rules in order for them to continue to practise. This post will focus on the professional conduct rules for solicitors, and the different job roles you might find in a solicitors’ firm.

Code of Conduct

Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). The SRA is responsible for regulating everything from training to be a solicitor, to dealing with how solicitors firms are run. Within the SRA Handbook, 10 principles are set down which are mandatory and apply to everyone who is regulated by the SRA, as well the Solicitors Code of Conduct. The Code of Conduct section includes Outcomes which must be achieved, usually by acting in light of the Indicative Behaviours.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority website can be found here:

The Solicitors Regulation Authority Handbook can be found here:

Chapter 1 of the Code of Conduct, within the SRA Handbook, is concerned with Client Care. This chapter is about providing a proper standard of service, taking into account the individual differences of each and every client. This includes ensuring that the client is given all the information they require to make informed decisions about the services they require, how they will be delivered and the costs involved. This chapter also deals with complaints handling.

The Outcomes which must be achieved in this chapter are lengthy. Examples of the Outcomes include:

  • Outcome 1.1 – You treat your clients fairly.
  • Outcome 1.4 – You have the resources, skills and procedures to carry out your clients’ instructions.
  • Outcome 1.9 – Clients are informed in writing at the outset of their matter of their right to complain and how complaints can be made.
  • Outcome 1.12 – Clients are in a position to make informed decisions about the services they need, or how their matter will be handled and the options available to them.

This list is non-exhaustive and includes 16 individual Outcomes, all of which must be satisfied.

The way in which a solicitor acts can suggest that they satisfy the Outcomes. These are known as Indicative Behaviours which accompany each chapter of the Code of Conduct. For example, one of the Indicative Behaviours for chapter one is:

  • Indicative Behaviour 1.3 – Ensuring that the client is told, in writing, the name and status of the person(s) dealing with the matter and the name and status of the person responsible for its overall supervision.

Many solicitors firms include these details in their client care letters. These are usually the first correspondence that you would receive from a solicitor, and tend to include information on client care.

Different roles with a law firm 

The aim of this section is to briefly highlight the various roles which are commonly found within a solicitors’ firm.

Partner: Law firms are generally partnerships and are therefore owned and managed by a partner. Partnership tends to be the ultimate ambition of an individual entering the legal profession and can be considered as the highest step on the career ladder. Partners are the owners of a firm, and therefore take a proportion of profits generated by the firm.

Associate/Senior Associate Solicitor: An associate is a fully qualified solicitor who is an employee of the firm. This usually means that this individual is working under the supervision of a Partner, or a more senior associate. These solicitors tend to work on a fixed salary. This role can also be considered to be a ‘fee-earner’, in that the work that they do generates the income of the firm. Levels of seniority are usually dependant on how much experience or expertise in an area that individual has. As a newly qualified associate in a firm, the next logical step would be increased seniority to become a ‘senior associate’ (if such a role exists within that particular firm), followed by partnership.

Trainee Solicitor: In order to become an associate in a law firm, an individual must secure and complete a training contract, or a period of recognised training within a law firm. An individual in the process of completing one of these will be known as a trainee solicitor. A period of recognised training tends to last 2 years and involves the individual ‘rotating’ around the various areas of law which the firm offers.

Paralegal/Legal assistant: This role is essentially that of an individual who carries out legal work that does not strictly have the status of a solicitor as they have not completed a training contract.

Chartered Legal Executive: Chartered Legal Executives are individuals which usually have the same expertise as a solicitor, but have simply chosen a different route to qualification.

Legal Secretary: Legal secretaries carry out administrative work for solicitors. Legal secretaries aren’t required to have any official legal qualification.

This post was written by Robert Bayles. Robert is a final year MLaw student currently working in the business and commercial firm in the Student Law Office. On graduation Robert aspires to secure a training contract within an in-house legal department of a company. Outside of law, Robert enjoys everything related to football specifically, as well as most other sports.

 

Trade Marks 101: Part 2

In this two part series, Perri Byrne and Liam Faulkner are taking us on a whistle stop tour of trade marks. In Part 1, Perri explained what a trade mark is and the benefits of registration. Here, in Part 2, Liam looks at how to register a trade mark.

In the highly competitive business world that we live in, the well known phrase “dog eat dog” is an understatement to say the least. If it wasn’t hard enough having to fiercely compete with other businesses that aim to conquer the market, there are new businesses popping up round every corner who also have the burning desire to succeed. However, there are tools available to all business owners which can potentially propel them to flourish in even the most cutthroat business environments! You need to look no further. One essential tool that is readily available to you is the registration of your trade mark. If you’ve had the tenacity to create such a creative brand, then why not make sure it was protected?

How can I make my application to register a trade mark?

You may have imagined the registration process entailing a damp old office down a corridor of your local town hall where you are presented with stacks upon stacks of dusty books containing previous trade marks, in which you have to tediously sort through to only find out that someone had registered the same trade mark ten years before you. Thanks to the 21st Century, this is not the case at all.

You will make your application to the UK Intellectual Property Office (click here for more about the IPO).

There are three methods available when applying to register a trade mark. Whichever method you choose, you will need to identify the “class” or “classes” that you wish to register it under. This is essentially the field/fields your trade mark will have protection in, for example “education” or “advertising”.

1)           Firstly, there is the standard paper service (post) which costs £200 (for one class of goods/services). There is a fee of £50 for each additional class.

2)            The second method is an online application, which costs £170 for one class, with a further £50 fee for each additional class.

3)            The final method is the ‘Right Start’ scheme which costs £200 (for one class) and is also an online service. You will pay only half of the fee with your application (for instance, if applying to register under one class, this would be £100). If the report is successful you may then proceed with the registration and the remainder of the fee will then be payable.

With each of these methods the Intellectual Property Office will email/post the examination report to you within 20 working days.

What happens after the application?

If the examiner has no objections to the registration of the mark, you will be published online in the Trade Marks Journal for a period of 2 months. This is open to public inspection in which, interested parties may oppose the registration. As long as no objections arise during that period, then the trade mark will be registered and a registration certificate will be issued to you. Consequently, you will now be the happy owner of a registered trade mark!

laimThis blog post was written by Liam Faulkner. Having studied intellectual property previously he has found it very interesting to apply this knowledge to real life scenarios. In his spare time he enjoys playing football, and after graduating he hopes to either secure a training contract or work as a paralegal.

Trade marks 101: Part 1

In this two part series, Perri Byrne and Liam Faulkner are going to take us on a whistle stop tour of trade marks. Here, in Part 1, Perri outlines what a trade mark is. She then goes on to explore the benefits of registration. In Part 2, Liam will explain how to register a trade mark.

What is a trade mark?

A trade mark is defined under s.1(1) Trade Marks Act 1994 as ‘any sign capable of being represented graphically which is capable of distinguishing goods or services of one undertaking from those of another’. In other words, a trade mark enables consumers to identify goods or services as originating from a particular company or relating to a certain product or service. Trade marks typically take the form of words or logos, though it is possible to protect more unusual forms of trade marks such as colours, slogans, shapes of products or packaging, sounds and even smells.

Trade marks may be registered or unregistered. Registering trade marks usually offers the best protection but unregistered trade marks can be enforced in certain circumstances under the law of passing off.

It is important to distinguish trade marks from other types of registration such as domain names or company names. Registering a company name at Companies House does not provide trade mark protection for that name. If a person registering a company name wishes to prevent third parties from using an identical or confusingly similar name in the course of trade, it is important to file a separate trade mark registration to better protect the name.

What are the benefits of owning a registered trade mark?

If your register your trade mark, you are entitled to:

  • sell and license the brand
  • take legal action against anyone who uses the brand without permission, including counterfeits
  • use the ® symbol next to the brand – to alert others that it is a registered mark and warn anyone against using it.

For more information about trade marks, we recommend you visit the Intellectual Property Office website.

 

PerriThis blog post is written by Perri Byrne. Perri is a MLaw student working in a business & commercial firm within the Student Law Office at Northumbria University. Upon graduation she hopes to obtain a training contract within a commercial law firm. Meanwhile, she plans to carry on her work at the Citizens Advice Bureau and to undertake a paralegal position in order to enhance the skills which she has developed.

How important is your business image?

Last month, food and drink giants Nestlè announced they had cancelled their sponsorship with the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), due to fear that the recent corruption and doping scandals enveloping athletics would damage its public image. This begs the question: how important is your business image?

The importance of having a good image

In their statement Nestlè explicitly state that they wish to protect their image and reputation. This is with good reason as in 2014/15 they registered sales of CHF 91.6 billion and no doubt they would want this to continue to rise. With allegations of corruption and doping surrounding the IAAF, Nestlè would no doubt be dragged into this scandal and guilt by association would at some point take place.

A good image is vital for a business to survive. Having a good image and reputation means that you may not have to spend a significant amount of time persuading potential customers or business partners that your services are worthwhile.  This could result in your business being transformed from a small, unknown business to one of the most trusted businesses in your sector. Instead of spending money on trying to improve your image, your image and reputation will speak for itself.

What happens if your business does not have a good image?

Should your image start to falter, it is important to ask why. For instance, has your business just received a bad review for the services it provides? Or are you in partnership with a business that does not have a particularly good image itself? Whatever the cause suffice to say that the problem needs immediate attention. If your business does not have a good image or reputation it could lead to the Nestlè scenario: cancellation of a partnership contract. It is interesting to note that Nestlè was not the first to act. The IAAF’s biggest sponsor, Adidas, reportedly pulled out of their contract too.

How can your business obtain a good image?

The most popular way a business can obtain a good image is getting involved in charity events. Not only do businesses get involved but so do law firms. For example, Morrisons are now the sponsors of the Great North Run in Newcastle. By sponsoring a national event that so many people use to raise money for charity, Morrisons will improve their image not only in the public eye but in the corporate eye also. Having completed the run myself I would say it indeed works!

Law firms also like to engage in charity work. For example, Muckle LLP provided pro bono services to over 60 charities that would have cost over £100,000 so that they could do their bit to help the local community. There are other great examples of law firms being active when it comes to charity work. Sills and Betteridge choose a different charity each year and then help raise money for that particular charity by organising different events, such as a bake sale or participating in the Lincoln 10K. These events and services help the local community and show the public that the law firms are responsible businesses.

Chris MThis post was written by Chris Middleton. Chris is a final year MLaw student currently working in the business and commercial firm in the Student Law Office. On graduation Chris hopes to travel through Europe before securing a training contract or a paralegal job to start his law career. Outside of law Chris is a keen sportsman, with football and long distance running being his main disciplines within sport.

Are you commercially aware?

Commercial awareness is an important skill that every employer looks for in candidates. Many students assume that it’s only relevant for those seeking corporate careers. That’s not true. Anyone who wants to be a solicitor, regardless of the type of firm they want to work for, needs to have commercial awareness.

Commercial awareness is one of the key requirements that a proficient and competent solicitor ought to master. So, for aspiring lawyers it is important to be commercially aware in order to secure a training contract.

SO WHAT IS COMMERCIAL AWARENESS?

Commercial awareness can be defined as staying up-to-date on daily activities and developments in the business and commercial world. However, commercial awareness is not merely being aware of the news. It also about understanding the implications of what is going on in the world- politically, economically, socially and how that impacts the clients of the firm. Commercially aware solicitors can tailor their advice to reflect the circumstances of their clients and in doing so will help to build stronger client-solicitor relationship.

Commercial awareness is about appreciating how a law firm works as a business. Law students usually understand how the law works. But to be commercially aware students need to also understand that a law firm is a business and it needs to make money. Employers want to see that you are also business minded and can identify ways in which the law firm can increase revenue. For example, this can be by undertaking exceptional work for the client so that the client brings in further work to the firm or by identifying a gap in the market or an opportunity to win a new client.

HOW CAN YOU BECOME COMMERCIALLY AWARE?

It is important to emphasise that becoming commercially aware does not happen overnight. It must be developed over a period of time, beginning with your basic legal education and growing as you continue your studies and embark on your legal career. Hence, thorough preparation is key to becoming commercially aware.

Research is the easiest way to gain commercial knowledge. Try reading newspapers, business publications and company newsletters, relevant books, watching relevant TV programmes, downloading business podcasts or reading business and commercial blogs like this one!

Predominantly you should be watching the news and reading newspapers daily to expand your general knowledge, as this is crucial to becoming commercially aware. So if you are interested in a particular story, make sure you follow it up all the way though to demonstrate genuine commercial awareness. One way you can do this is by, perhaps, signing up to the Law Society Gazette and keep updated on the stories which interest you.

Try and stay up-to-date on the latest deals, transactions, legislative changes and other relevant developments such that you are able to understand and appreciate both the big picture as well as the local economy on the doorstep of the firms you want to work for.

Work experience is probably the most practical way to gain commercial acumen; as it may give you knowledge about how a particular firm works. The strength and weaknesses of the business and what is affecting the business at that particular time.

Working in any kind of job though, not necessarily one in law, will provide insight into how a business is conducted, what factors contribute to success or failure, how to utilise manpower and resources to the best extent, and what will be the bottom-line result.

Other methods include taking part in discussion forums, industry-specific networking/ business clubs, attending lectures and seminars which focusses on business and commerce.

USING SOCIAL MEDIA TO BECOME SOCIALLY AWARE

Social media has become a part of most people’s daily life. Social media is an easy and fun way to become commercially aware.

Facebook

Facebook can aid in becoming commercially aware, since news outlets such as the Financial Times, The Times, Bloomberg Business and The Telegraph have their own Facebook pages.  You can effortlessly keep up to date with the latest affairs on your newsfeed by liking their pages, and simply clicking on article that interest you which will help your commercial awareness. It would be even better to like the pages of the Law Firms you are interested in potentially working for, as they may post updates about the firm which may be useful to know for interviews.

Twitter

Twitter can also be used to help individuals become commercially aware. You can follow the twitter pages of the news outlets mentioned above e.g Bloomberg Business and Financial Times. You can also follow The Law Society and the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority as well as the pages of the firms you want to apply to in the future, to keep up to date. Even the Student Law Office has a twitter page!

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a professional social media platform which acts as your online CV. So it is essential to have a profile on LinkedIn and ensure it is optimised for recruiters.

LinkedIn can help you be commercially aware as you can follow a range of law firms and remain updated on their activity. You can even check out the profiles of people who already work at a specific law firm to get an insight about the educational and professional background of the people the firm employs.

And last but not least, don’t just ‘consume’ information – you need to understand and apply what you’ve learnt. Recruiters are searching for candidates who can make connections, draw conclusions and understand the world around them. Recruiters want evidence – you need to give it to them!

rezwana dithy

This blog post was written by Rezwana Dithy. Rezwana is a MLaw student working in a business and commercial firm within the Student Law Office. After graduating from University, she hopes to secure a training contract within a commercial law firm. In the meantime, she plans to undertake paralegal work & also continue her work advising older clients at Age UK to develop important skills she will be utilising in practice.