Calling All Developers – Are You Commonhold Ready?

Pankaj Patel is TBC’s commercial and property lawyer who combines his wide legal skills with many years’ of entrepreneurial experience.

The concept of Commonhold has been around since 2002 but there has been very little take up by developers.  However, now that there has been escalating criticism of leasehold properties, the time may now have arrived. It’s not that novel; it’s the way that flats or units are sold in Australia and in USA.  That’s why they are called a Unit or Condominium. Instead of owning a leasehold flat, you purchase a freehold flat.

Leaseholders are granted a lease by the freeholder to occupy a flat for a fixed number of years. Leaseholders encounter problems, including:

· being required by the lease to pay ground rent, which increases alarmingly over time;

· as the lease gradually gets shorter, its market value slips, and there are problems selling it; buyers are unable to obtain a mortgage, as lenders are averse to lending against short leases;

· having to comply with restrictions in the lease such as not being able to keep any pet at all. This may sound de minimis (a trifle), but pets have become popular now people are spending a lot of time at home.

Government reforms are expected to include legislation: –

· enabling leaseholders to extend their leases to 990 years, for a fee payable to the freeholder;

· requiring ground rents to be zero in newly extended 990-year leases and new leases;

· encouraging Commonhold ownership instead of leasehold.

Commonhold is a form of ownership for multi-occupancy developments, such as a house divided into flats. In a Commonhold structure, each flat owner: –

· is called a ‘unit holder’, and owns the freehold of their flat (their flat is called a ‘unit’); there is no ground rent and their interest is not limited to a fixed number of years.

· is also a member of a ‘Commonhold Association’, which is special form of limited company, which is the freehold owner and manager of the ‘common parts’ of the development.

Thus, as one of the members of the Commonhold Association, a unit holder has a ‘communal stake’ in the management of their development, unlike a leasehold.

Commonholds have been available for over a decade, but very few have been formed for various reasons. The Government reforms are expected to make the Commonhold structure popular, and perhaps even compulsory.

The Government reforms, together with adroit marketing by a developer, may result in units in a Commonhold development achieving a higher market price on sale, than a leasehold.

A higher market price may be attractive to developers, representing an accelerated receipt of a lump sum in payment for giving up the freehold.

We shall be following the Government reforms as they take shape in the coming months.

If you have a query please contact Pankaj.

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The Importance of PR for Start-ups

‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression.’

Public Relations is a powerful tool for a start-up to raise its profile and build relationships. It will help prove the viability of a product or service, build a business model, and attract investment.  Start-ups are early-stage businesses that face a unique public relations challenge. They need to identify and build new relationships from the ground up with a public around an innovative product or service.

Investment in public relations can be incredibly valuable and cost effective as an accelerator for early stage and start-up organisations. At its best it enables the company to build a community and long-term relationships with potential investors, partners, and customers. Often PR makes it onto a fledgling company’s radar too late. The process of developing the right relationships with influencers, journalists and media outlets should in fact begin from day one. PR is an investment for the long run and should be part of every start-up’s business plan.

As a new business and brand, you need to build your reputation, and quickly.  It is not what you say about yourself, but what others say about you that counts. When a journalist, analyst or commentator writes about you in a positive light, it immediately establishes credibility.  There are no shortcuts when it comes to PR for a new company with no footprint. Getting media attention requires persistence and creativity.

Modern corporate communications and public relations campaigns are integrated across all forms of media.  This means part of Public Relations is also getting featured not only in traditional media such as newspapers, trade publications, tv and radio, but also in online media, blog sites and social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Nowadays, direct feedback in online networking sites can propagate in a way that can make or break a start-up company.  PR plays the critical role of reputation monitoring and management. Failing to fill this role could leave a dangerous gap.

This is the reason why start-ups should engage an experienced PR professional to help develop and implement their strategy.  PR has its own pace and the worst thing a new company can do is to get out of the starting gate too soon, only to receive negative or ‘off-message’ media coverage, leaving them with a damaged reputation that can take a long time to overcome.  While developing and promoting your story is proactive, crisis management is the reactive side of PR, and another vital aspect of your toolkit.

Anything could happen to create unwanted media attention around your company, such as a data leak, product contamination, a death within the company, service malfunction, or a disgruntled employee. You always need to have a strategy ready for such situations and your PR professional will know how to draft a holding statement and appropriate media responses to shine a positive light on your business at any instance and manage the situation.

Effective PR will bring in high quality employees.  Building the team and attracting quality talent is an important job of start-up founders. Exceptional people are drawn to companies that have momentum and create a buzz. Equally, positive media coverage will reignite a founding team’s motivation, serving as validation of their hard work, their performance in tough times, and an exciting future ahead for the company.

S. Raabe PR specialist

A well-defined PR strategy creates a positive image for a long time and ensures sustainable company success.  Public Relations is the skill of perception management.  It is your business strategy and model properly understood by everyone – including you.

 

by Sabine Raabe

PR Specialist, Insight PR & Media

Collaboration Partner – The Brooke Consultancy

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India: A Beacon for British SMEs

India Unmasked

It will come as a surprise to some that the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world is based in India: the Serum Institute of India, supplier to the world.

It may also be a surprise that not only did India achieve the fastest rate of vaccinations – one million in 6 days – but India recently began exporting the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to countries such as Brazil, Saudi Arabia, UAE and, free to Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh. It is no surprise then that China sees India as its major competitor in more ways than one especially since the recent new strategic defence cooperation announced between the US, Australia, Japan and India which is intended as a “China containment effort”.

Dig deeper, and one begins to see a path to business opportunities for British world-class products, technology and services in the defence and paramilitary sectors.

A Beacon

These landmarks offer a beacon for weary British SMEs, and bring to light an opportunity to tap India’s capabilities and its large talent pool. We should view India as a vast resource where one can both develop and manufacture for domestic and international markets and tap into India’s own large layered consumer retail market.

In other words, India does not just provide technical and manufacturing potential, and an available skilled and semi-skilled work-force, but also a market for our goods and services in biotech, pharma, railways & roads infrastructure, defence and homeland security, medical devices, healthcare and hospital networks, avionics and electronics, education, solar, IT and…well, the list goes on!

British SMEs remain world leaders in technology, design and product innovation, with particular strengths in education and financial services. Very few realise the value they sit on and their potential in India.

The Indian corporate landscape is suited to British SMEs, and India’s many listed large and small companies and myriad of unlisted Indian SMEs mean there are plenty of folk to work with.

Britain Lags. Why?

It is true that the road to business success in India is bumpy and can seem daunting to the unprepared.

Our great British apprehension of India’s different culture and worries about baffling peculiar local business practices have mostly hindered hopeful SMEs.  However, Brexit and then the pandemic have cast a long dark shadow on the British economy and India provides huge potential if we can overcome the fear of the known unknowns in India.

Only our mind-set keeps us lagging behind our major western competitors in India.

The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, in recent months, has sought to shed light on the path to India. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak also encouraged greater synergy between our financial services industry and Indian companies. That said, to take real advantage of doing business in India will need both preparation and experience of cultural barriers and local bumps.

H. Lamba due diligence specialist india

For example, local partner selection should not be just a desktop management flow-chart exercise ere at home. Choosing your local partners is the most crucial “touch-and-feel” factor which will almost completely permeate your experience in India and may be your greatest risk. Drafting in British Indians to try and ‘fit in’ locally is often not the answer and can be viewed as condescending.

Although there certainly are real challenges there are also real and practical solutions and the prospect of significant rewards. In future blogs I will highlight what is important on your road to India – and it is not just having world-class products and technologies, or “contacts”, or shiny glass offices in Delhi as many over-zealous Western companies with great products and technologies have discovered in India to their detriment.

by Harinder Lamba

LH-Blenheim Advisors

Collaboration Partner – The Brooke Consultancy

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Tips for SMEs – why GDPR matters

As an employer, you doubtless seek to ensure that you operate legally. Contracts of employment, staff manuals, equality compliance – all bread-and-butter HR practices.

But have you ensured you are ‘GDPR’ compliant? SMEs are equally subject to privacy laws as their larger counterparts, and just as vulnerable to legal and regulatory risks should they get it wrong.

Have you met the ‘transparency’ requirement with your staff? Have you provided adequate training to those handling sensitive data? And are you aware of how ‘weaponised’ privacy has become in employment litigation? These are as much ‘HR’ topics as legal ones.

This overview discusses the ‘basics’ of GDPR from a SME perspective, and will hopefully allow you to evaluate your level of current compliance.

Are you compliant?

There are many facets of GDPR which may apply to a business, depending on factors such as its size and the nature of data processing. These may include data protection officers, training, data privacy impact assessments, international transfers and 3rd-party processing.

However, even in small employers, there are basic requirements which must be met;

• Depending on the nature of your business, you may be required to register with the ICO and pay an annual fee. If you’re not sure if this applies to your business, you should check here;

• Even if you don’t need to pay a fee, GDPR will still be relevant and, if you employ people, you need to meet the ‘transparency’ requirement explained below;

• You may also wish to assess your overall compliance status with the ICO’s tool here.

Transparency – what the law requires

In the words of the ICO “Individuals have the right to be informed about the collection and use of their personal data. This is a key transparency requirement under the GDPR”.

In the case of an employer, the individuals concerned will include job applicants, employees and ex-employees. The privacy information you should provide to these data subjects – indeed, the very legal basis on which you process such data – differs completely from that given to clients or in a website-use privacy policy.

The topic of privacy policies, how they apply to SME employers, and how we can assist with compliance, is discussed in greater detail in our guide GDPR and the Transparency Requirement.

Do you train employees in privacy?

One of the questions asked by the regulator in its small businesses self-assessment tool (see above) is “Do you and your staff (if you have any) know your data protection responsibilities?” In the explanatory text, it goes on to cite the example of a builder with a couple of office staff. The point here is that anyone handling personal data in their place of work should have an understanding of the law and how to manage data securely.

For most data controllers, there is plenty of relevant guidance on the ICO’s website, but it is essential that you not only deliver awareness information but clearly document the process.

If, however, you are processing either significant amounts of data, or particularly sensitive data, you should consider engaging professional support.

Bear in mind that, should a data breach occur through human error, the regulator is likely to question whether data handlers were given appropriate awareness.

GDPR and employment litigation

Should one of your (ex-)employees consult a lawyer with a view to launching employment litigation, the odds are that the latter will immediately recommend the submission of  a GDPR ‘Subject Access Request’.

Lawyers harness this legal right as an evidence ’fishing’ tool – looking for that incriminating email to compromise you and bolster a claim of maltreatment.

They are well versed in casting their net as widely as possible, using broad language such as “all internal communications that relate to me, including emails and other electronic documents throughout the period of my employment”. They will also sometimes ask for information to which the applicant isn’t actually entitled, in the hope that an ill-informed employer will simply comply.

Whilst compliance with this may seem straightforward, there are areas where interpretation and judgement are required:

• Is the document actually about the data subject? Ordinary business communications, to which the applicant was merely a party in their professional capacity, are not in scope;
• Would disclosure of the data adversely affect the privacy rights of another employee? Even if their name was redacted? If so, disclosure may be inappropriate but redaction must be justified;
• Is the request sufficiently complex to warrant an extension of the one-month deadline?
• How should electronic records be searched and data extracted securely?
• With all of this in mind, should you ever receive a subject access request, you need to consult – immediately – someone with good knowledge of both the law and its practical application. It is very unlikely that your company’s regular solicitor can provide these capabilities.

GDPR and SMEs – How I can help

Firstly, there are a few reasons why I should help.

• All employers are vulnerable to disgruntled employees, and non-compliance with GDPR can leave them exposed;

• Designing GDPR documentation that would withstand legal challenge, or responding to a Subject Access Request effectively, requires knowledge and practical experience;

• Specialist privacy lawyers are often ‘overkill’ for smaller organisations and commensurately expensive;
Using a professionally-qualified practitioner minimises risk and legal liability GDPR specialist

What is my approach?

• I will assess anything you already have in place and will not try to sell services where they are not required;
• My professional fees, agreed in advance, are low compared to larger consultancies or specialist lawyers;
• I offer a ‘virtual’ data protection officer package, with annual staff training and on-demand GDPR support, for a low fixed fee.
• I have over seventeen years of practical experience in privacy and information security in corporate settings, so can apply the law in a pragmatic manner and one suited to your actual requirements.

 

Michael Brunker CISM CIPP/E
Principal – BRP Consulting
Collaboration Partner – The Brooke Consultancy

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Protecting Intellectual Property post Brexit

Businesses that own IP rights, trademarks, patents, designs or copyrights should seek legal advice NOW

Whether or not there is a deal on Brexit before the 31st December 2020 you should be aware of the effect of Brexit on your IP rights.  In particular, action may be required in relation to any registered or pending European Union Trade Marks (“EUTMs”) and Registered EU Designs (“RCDs”).

1.       If you have made an application for an EUTM or RCD which is still pending as of 31st December 2020, you must file a separate national UK application if you want your trade mark or design to be protected in the UK.  Provided the comparable UK application is filed by 30 September 2021 the resulting registration will be effective from the date of the original ETUM or RCD application.

2.       Registered EUTMs and RCDs will be automatically cloned into national UK trade mark or design registrations.  It will eventually be necessary to appoint a UK address for service for national UK IP rights and so consideration should be given as to whether to appoint a UK trade mark attorney firm to represent you in relation to any national IP rights.

3.       Any national UK trade mark rights which stem from an EUTM registration, must be renewed separately.  This means that even if you have renewed an EUTM registration early, if the renewal falls after 31 December 2020, you must also renew the UK registration.

4.       Unregistered community design rights will continue to be protected and enforceable in the UK for the remainder of their 3-year term.   The UK government will introduce equivalent protection in the UK through the new Supplementary Unregistered (SUD) Right.

5.       You need to consider all agreements that mention an EUTM.

 

Patents

As the European Patent Office is not an EU agency, leaving the EU does not affect the current European patent system. Existing European patents covering the UK are also unaffected.

European patent attorneys based in the UK continue to be able to represent applicants before the EPO.

Copyright

Most UK copyright works, books, films and music, will still be protected in the EU and the UK.  This is because the UK has a continued participation in the international treaties on copyright.

 

Help & Advice

TBC has access to all the expertise that you need. We work with Keltie LLP who are a premier firm of trademark and patent attorneys.

Rosemary Cardas of Keltie will be able to tell you about a range of fee concessions for Brexit related work set out above.

All Intellectual Property matters are dealt with by the Intellectual Property Office and you can find  guidance at www.gov.uk/government/organisations/intellectual-property-office.

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Your business’s strategy – why external input is important

Chris Disspain is the Director of TBC’s non-legal services including advice on strategy, government relations, cybersecurity and crisis management. Here he explains the role of independent input into your business’s strategic planning.

TBC offers businesses an opportunity to take stock, test assumptions, clarify goals and refine strategy to ensure they are ready for the next step in their journey to success. How?

A fish can’t see water –

Many small to medium enterprises (SMEs) have a plan that sets out their Strategy. And that Strategic Plan is often, to quote Douglas Adams, “…on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.”. Not literally, obviously. Many offices don’t have a disused lavatory or a leopard.

Successful SMEs have a Strategic Plan, look at it often and update it regularly. But even the most successful SMEs don’t always understand the key challenge they face. The people who write the Strategic Plan and measure its success usually work IN the business and just as a fish can’t see water, those writers and measurers may not be best placed to ‘see’ the business.

OK, enough about fish (and leopards). Let’s talk about murder –

Or more precisely, let’s talk Murder Boards. The term Murder Board originated in the US Military and it’s generally described as a committee of questioners set up to undertake a critical review. It’s often used to help people prepare for political hearings or going before the media in a crisis. But it is a crucial tool in other contexts too.

Whether you’re just starting a business, well established, a new owner, a keen seller or need to create a strategic plan or a strategy to achieve a specific goal such as an acquisition, a Murder Board can help you.

Simply put, in a business context, a Murder Board’s job is to ask questions, test beliefs, pick at loose thread, poke holes, find gaps, identify group think and expose the dangers, risks and challenges, opportunities strategies and pathways that you may have missed because you’re inside and can’t see the water.

We hope you can see that the Murder Board is not relentlessly negative. There may be unidentified nasties lurking just outside your field of vision but there will also be positives, new opportunities, enhanced strategies and AH-HA moments.

“Brilliant” we hear you say. “Can’t I just get my mates round and do a Murder Barbeque?” –

Yes, subject to any current social distancing rules, of course you can. But, honestly, whilst it will most assuredly be a Barbeque it is likely to be more Massage than Murder.

You don’t need input and advice from a bunch of friends who may well just tell you what they think you want to hear, massage your ego and worry about what you’ll think of them if they tell you something negative.

You need objective outsiders, who understand strategy and planning, who are experienced in business but not in your business, and who won’t be concerned about asking naïve questions. You need facilitators who won’t self-censor or edit their questions or answers or worry about not getting an invitation to the next social event at your place.

“Got it, but everything is fine right now. I’ll wait until we’re next due to renew our Strategic Plan or there’s a crisis.”, you might suggest –

Absolutely…except…remember that truly successful businesses operate with a continuous strategic mindset and with checks and balances in place to ensure that every operational step is in line with the fundamental pillars of their strategy.

Running a Murder Board is not about your Strategic Plan as such but about ongoing business strategy, investment strategy, operating in the real world, and checking in on the businesses belief systems, marketing and sales messages, customers or clients.

And yes, in a crisis a Murder Board is very valuable to finesse messaging and media strategy. But it’s much more effective in crisis management if it has been preceded by an overarching look at the business that has already identified the dangers, risks and challenges and formulated plans for dealing with them.

We can help!

TBC provides Business Advice in the Round. We don’t just help your business with legal issues. We provide you with access to our expert collaboration partners and our own team of business professionals experienced in strategy and planning. We’ve run Murder Boards for start-ups and established businesses for many reasons including to test their strategy, sales and marketing plans or operations and to get them ready for investment or sale.

We’d be delighted to chat with you about what we can offer that will help you ‘see the water’.

The Brooke Consultancy is a law firm and business consultancy offering Business Advice in the Round. We help businesses and individuals prosper. Click here to contact us.

 

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The Brooke Consultancy – An opportunity for lawyers to join A New Model Law Firm

Chris Disspain is the Chair of TBC’s Management Team. He is a lawyer, author, CEO and non-executive director. Here he looks at how the TBC model works and why it is attractive to some lawyers.

I was 36 when I quit the law. I’d lived through the tyranny of the timesheet; I’d done the day-to-day drudgery of admin, and I’d experienced the pains of partnership. What I really wanted was a way to pursue the bits of being a lawyer that I was passionate about…you know, the actual ‘being a lawyer’ bits. Back then, I just couldn’t see a way to do that.

Things have moved on a fair bit since those days. The Brooke Consultancy (TBC), set up by my ex-senior partner Lynne Brooke, is a New Model Law Firm that is reinventing what it means to have a fulfilling and rewarding career in the law – for both young solicitors who feel they are just another cog in a large machine and for veterans of the profession looking to step off the treadmill of large firms and reignite the passion that drew them into a career in law in the first place.

TBC are a group of like-minded lawyers and business professionals who work remotely and don’t have fancy offices or irrelevant overheads. TBC’s clients pay for help and advice not for plush furnishings and art works.

Whether they are young or mature, TBC was created to allow lawyers that join us the freedom to

  • choose work that is in line with their personal passion
  • make or enhance their professional reputation
  •  ignite or revive their drive
  • untether themselves from the never ending ‘full timesheets are everything’ dictum and take on as many or as few cases as they choose

TBC offers the infrastructure, security, flexibility and financial safety-net to allow lawyers to work on what excites and drives them.

TBC saves its lawyers time, effort and money by:

  • doing the day to day administration, accounts and billing management
  • dealing with all aspects of the SRA and compliance (other than lawyers own professional conduct)
  • dealing with client account management
  • handling practising certificates and professional indemnity insurance
  • professionally dealing with any complaints
  • providing large firm marketing and promotion coupled with a small firm ethos and character
  • giving access to professionals and experts in other areas so lawyers can provide their clients with a full ‘in house’ service

TBC’s goal is to enable lawyers to create a professionally enriching self-managed career path without needing to take on the high risk, high-pressure demands, and huge costs of going it alone.

This opportunity is not for everyone. Lawyers that join TBC have an existing client following with billings in excess of £75,000 per year. TBC’s lawyers keep 70% of the fees paid from work introduced by and carried out by them. Arrangements are in place for referral fees to be paid for work introduced by them to other lawyers and vice versa.

If the idea of pursuing this path in genuine collaboration with some of the brightest and best minds in the law attracts you or re-ignites a fire that has been slowly ebbing away in the world of large firm anonymity, simply make contact with TBC. Let’s start a conversation about a future that reduces risk and allows you to take back control of your career, to lift your professional profile, to create the flexibility and agility to work the hours you choose on the matters you are passionate about and to trash to tyranny of the timesheet; ditch the drudgery of day to day administration and part with the pain of partnership.

TBC is currently looking for lawyers within all fields but especially immigration, employment, IP, Property, Tax, Private Client, IT contracts, and family law with particular reference to financial settlements.

If you’re interested in learning more contact Eva Caletkova on eva@thebrookeconsultancy.com

The Brooke Consultancy is a law firm and business consultancy offering Business Advice in the Round. We help businesses and individuals prosper. Click here to contact us.

 

 

 

 

 

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OFFICE POLITICS? – Remote working in a post COVID-19 world

Lynne Brooke is a solicitor with a wide knowledge of corporate and commercial law with a particular emphasis on SMEs and Social benefit. In this Blog he writes about the effect of COVID19 on the working environment and the future of offices.

As we enter a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic where business is being encouraged to re-open their offices, are we about to lose a real opportunity to revolutionise the way we work?

The issue of remote working is not new.  It is addressed in E F Schumacher’s thesis ‘Small is Beautiful’ first published in 1973.  Schumacher could see impending globalisation and proposed using technology to ‘bring into existence millions of new workplaces’ outside of the cities.

Small is Beautiful is now feasible because technology is advanced enough to enable remote working on the basis of distributed networks.

As we battle our way through the COVID-19 pandemic a debate has arisen about whether post COVID-19 it is better to go back to the office or to work remotely.

Leaving aside the restrictions and constrictions of our current situation the underlying point of discussion is whether the creation of larger operations in one or several large spaces, is the best way to carry on business or whether better results can be achieved where the business is carried on, on a distributed network basis?

Before COVID-19 (BC) there were two distractions from the underlying argument – two systems that, it was suggested, could lead to a harder working, more effective and more profitable workforce:

  • Hot-desking, where multiple workers use a single work station or work-space at different times
  • Co-working, where small units of a business share office space and infrastructure with units from other businesses.

Both systems are fundamentally the same, based on squeezing more people into a smaller space believing that they can be more productive and that there is some miraculous synergy that increases effectiveness and well-being as a result of conversations at the water cooler or shuffling up to colleagues to discuss an issue.

Then the pandemic occurred, making a virtue out of necessity.  It has not been possible to go into the office, large or small, and many people have had to work remotely.  This has introduced a new dimension possibly beginning the realisation of the Schumacher principle because technology has reached a stage where working remotely can be effective.

BC, 1.7 million people worked mainly from home in the UK. That was about 5% of the workforce of 33 million.

BC the facts were that:

  • 30% of the working population described themselves as unhappy at work.
  • 40% felt that they were neglecting other aspects of their life because of work
  • 27% felt depressed, 34% felt anxious and 58% felt irritable
  • Nearly two thirds of employees experienced a negative effect on their personal life such as a lack of personal development, poor home life and physical and mental health issues
  • Stress accounted for nearly half of all working days lost.

Over the past 4 months, millions more have joined remote working and have created a work-space in their home.  Now more than 30% work remotely. A number of surveys of UK businesses over the last few months confirm the benefits of working remotely:

  • Flexible hours and working
  • Better work life balance
  • Greater motivation
  • Better levels of efficiency and productivity
  • Lower levels of absence, sickness and stress
  • Improved customer/client service

The majority of remote workers are more productive and more communicative. Communication is actually more regular and efficient.  How often have you been in office meetings which are unnecessary, too long, unfocused and where people don’t communicate? Video conference meetings tend to be more sharply focused, quicker and, surprisingly perhaps, more collegial.

It is clear that remote working can result in a better quality of life and better work/life balance with the person still being part of a team and part of the overall enterprise. In addition, the cost of time and travel has been eliminated.

Schumacher suggested that the three things people most want are to be creatively productive, to render service and to act in accordance with their moral impulses. Good work life balance helps people achieve those and benefits both themselves and the business in which they work.

We could be at the dawn of a new era for businesses and for employee relations. And yet…government policy is pushing us back into the office. Could that policy be not a necessity but rather a political act aimed at restoring vitality to the commercial property sector?

Could the move back to the office be counterproductive to people’s wellbeing and therefore productivity?

Business has an opportunity to boost its bottom line and improve its relationship with the workforce by harnessing current technology to take advantage of the benefits of remote working and to build a nationwide (and global) distributed network of remote working employees. Remote working now means that we have a method where the principles of ’Small is Beautiful’ can be achieved for the benefit of both business and its workforce. Let’s take advantage of that and build our business not around commercial real estate but around people.

The Brooke Consultancy is a law firm and business consultancy offering Business Advice in the Round. We help businesses and individuals prosper. Click here to contact us.

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COVID-19 Update: Court hearings in the time of the pandemic

Kerem Alev is an experienced litigator and advocate with higher right of audience who acts for businesses and individuals. Here he looks at the changes to the court system driven by COVID-19

The global outbreak of Covid-19 and strict lockdown measures imposed by the UK Government on 23 March 2020, which resulted in the banning of many people from leaving their homes caused disruption and undoubtedly interfered with the progress of claims in the Courts in England & Wales.

The Lord Chief Justice recognised the likely impact of Covid-19 on the administration of justice even before the lockdown in his announcement of 17 March 2020.

Following the lockdown, it wasn’t to be business as usual with the Courts. Indeed, it couldn’t be so we saw significant changes to the Courts processes.

 

In the beginning

Most Courts were closed for personal attendance. Many (but not all) parties with existing claims saw their forthcoming interlocutory hearings or Trial, which had been listed before the lockdown for hearing after 23 March 2020, adjourned, and quite often with late notice either on the day of the hearing or preceding day. With little direction from the relevant Court before notice, this meant parties (and their representatives) found themselves having little option but to continue investing valuable resources in complying with directions and preparing to attend a hearing which was in the scheme of things unlikely to be heard. For many, this would have caused extreme frustration.

Certain types of claims were also suspended. For some time Winding Up Petitions to wind up Companies were not listed for hearing at all.

Some Courts and Tribunals remained open for urgent matters only. For example, the First Tier Property Tribunal at 10 Alfred Place in London, and the Court of Appeal have not been issuing any new claims or applications until recently.

Residential property claims and some other claims falling within the scope of CPR 55, which normally make up a bulk of the County Courts weekly list remain stayed until the end of August 2020.

 

More recently & the future.

The Courts have adapted pretty quickly to the disruption caused by the pandemic with hearings and some Trials continuing remotely via telephone or video.

Actually, telephone hearings themselves are not new. They have been around for quite some time, but their use has been inconsistent, and probably they have been underused. One problem which has probably prevented their wider use is the need to book a specific time and this can be quite tricky for a busy Judge having to deal with a busy attended Court list as well.

However, there are many positives to be learned from this and it’s obvious that technology has a vital role to play in the administration of justice. We are now likely to see the use of video and telephone hearings more often. Senior Costs Judge Gordon-Saker issued a practice note for the Senior Courts Costs Office making it clear that remote hearings will continue to have a significant part in the future of that Court even after social distancing requirements are removed.

Mrs Justice Cockerill told a meeting of the Commercial Court Users Group recently that Court staff and Judges were actively thinking about keeping remote hearings as a default position.

Further, the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS have been working on a new video platform which enables remote cases to be heard by the Civil and Family Courts. Called the Cloud Video Platform it will presumably replace the likes of Skype for Business and Zoom which are currently used by the Civil Courts for video hearings.

Improvements are still needed in respect of electronic filing in the County Courts and Tribunals, and Court users must learn to improve how electronic documents and bundles are presented for use (some guidance on preparation of PDF Files with bookmarking, OCR and ensuring PDF page numbers are in sync with the bundle pages have been issued already), but it is apparent that we are in a new era. The pandemic has helped spur change to how Court hearings and Trials are typically conducted and had it not been for the lockdown, Courts would likely have continued to resist, or at least not prioritise, change.

Remote hearings, if used properly, can help minimise attendance costs as well as save time.

 

 

The Brooke Consultancy is a law firm and business consultancy offering Business Advice in the Round. We help businesses and individuals prosper. Click here to contact us.

 

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Thinking Of Becoming A Charity Trustee?

Lynne Brooke is a solicitor with a wide knowledge of corporate and commercial law and is a trustee of Westminster Mencap and Kith & Kids and the Lifetime President of Disability Law service. In this Blog he writes about what to do if you’re considering a role as a Charity Trustee.

 

I have been involved in the Charity sector for over 40 years both as a legal adviser and as a Charity Trustee, and count many Charity Trustees as my friends.

Charity Trustees generally do a very good job, but it is easy to get it wrong; you may have read in the press about the recent problems at the Royal National Institute of Blind People.

My notes below have been designed to help someone thinking of becoming a Charity Trustee.

Trustees have overall control of a charity and are responsible for making sure it’s doing what it was set up to do. Trustees may be known by other titles, such as directors or committee members.

A Charity has a Governing document setting out the objects (i.e. the aims) of the Charity and other important provisions.

Where the Charity has no separate legal personality then its governing document is likely to be a Trust Deed and:

  •  the Trustees will generally hold the legal title to the Charity’s assets
  • the Trustees will be directly personally liable to third parties in respect of contracts entered into by the Charity eg relating to employees, premises, and suppliers
  • the Trustees will be personally at risk if the Charity runs out of funds and is unable to meet its liabilities.
  • the Trustees should ensure where possible that contracts include a clause limiting the liability of the Trustees to the amount of the Charity’s assets.

Where the Charity has a separate legal personality, such as a charitable company limited by guarantee or Charitable Incorporated Organisation then its governing document is likely to be the entities Constitution and:

  • the separate legal personality will generally hold the legal title to the Charity’s assets
  • the Trustees will not be personally liable to third parties in respect of contracts entered into by the Charity.

Given the differences in personal liability, once you have become a Charity Trustee it is worth considering changing the Charity so it has a separate legal personality.

Before becoming a Charity Trustee:

  • familiarise yourself with the Charity’s Governing document, and keep it readily available for your reference as you should know its contents and comply with it
  • familiarise yourself with the Charity Commission Guides which are available on its website and in particular read the ‘Essential Trustee’ Guide
  • check that the Charity has appropriate insurance and its scope/caveats in respect of its activities
  • check if the Charity is be permitted by its Governing Document to indemnify its Trustees who have acted in good faith and in accordance with their duties
  • if the Charity has Trustee Indemnity Insurance, which gives Charity Trustees limited protection, check its scope/caveats, and whether you have to pay towards the premium

Becoming a Charity Trustee can be an extraordinarily rewarding experience but it is it is an important and serious role so if you decide to become a Charity Trustee remember:

  • keep the Charity’s governing documents readily available at all time so you can refer to them and make sure everything done complies with them
  • you may be subject to personal legal action by the Charity Commission or fellow trustees for breach of trust
  • you may incur personal liability if the charity operates while it is insolvent. If there is any such risk the Trustees should protect the Charity and themselves by instructing an experienced insolvency practitioner at an early stage to monitor and formally advise; letting matters drift without such advice is a recipe for incurring personal liability.

Lynne Brooke is a solicitor with a wide knowledge of corporate and commercial law and is a trustee of Westminster Mencap and Kith & Kids and the Lifetime President of Disability Law service.

The Brooke Consultancy is a law firm and business consultancy offering Business Advice in the Round. We help businesses and individuals prosper. Click here to contact us.

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