Tuesday 3 July 2012

Regulating Client Money

One of the major difficulties I encountered in managing an IP practice as a Solicitor was compliance with the detailed acounts rules. At present those regulated by IPREG have a delightful concise Rule 11.

"Regulated persons shall ensure that their professional finances are managed appropriately."

If you are acting as a litigator it is a little more complex but in either case "money on account for fees or disbursements paid up front" can sit in the Office account. Possibly many patent and trademark agents do not even have a client account. However Financial Matters are one of the areas set to change under the latest proposals and we are beginning to see detail coming in that will make our terms of trade get ever longer and the duties of our Head of Finance ever more elaborate. So we may get:

"In the event that a regulated person receives money from a client, other than by way of payment of fees or disbursements incurred, but including money on account for fees or disbursements paid up front, they should ensure that such money is held on trust for the client in an account which is entirely separate from the regulated person’s or the firm’s professional business accounts.

In the event that money may be held on trust for a client, a registered person’s terms of business should deal with the issue of ownership of interest earned on money held on behalf of a client."

Running Away with Client's Money by Ian Burt et al
It may well be that there is no other way than to require the client account. However money can be recived for a client from the EPO and OHIM as refunds of fees and this necessarily becomes mixed with office money in deposit accounts. Many of us will have different ways of dealing with this and the client will usually be told what they are if and when it arises.   The matter is further complicated by the fact that that money is in Euros and we account in sterling. Nothing so far has appeared in the Code about the vexed question of how to convert unpaid disbursments in foregin currency into sterling. It has been common practice to include a profit cost uplift here. Even if you try to make a genunine pre-estimate of actual cost my rule (Xe rate +5% plus £10) won't be yours and indeed if your charges for currency conversion are higher than £10 nor should it be.

If you are a client where there are substantial disbursments its best to discuss policies in the engagement process. However it is worth remembering that cutting costs in one area often results in them appearing elsewhere so the overall cost is the one that needs to be fair.

Keeping it simple means keeping no client money, but that forces you into valuing disbursments so lets all head of to the Banks looking for client accounts that won't deduct charges. Dont forget to tell your clients that such money accrues no interest due to them.

Of course if IPREG give guidance on all this we are all compelled to operate the same way and that will likley be the Solicitor's way and may be anti-competitive. Remember the Red Book.

No comments:

Post a Comment