Tuesday 27 August 2013

Where Charity really begins ...

Many are the times this blogger (the son of a partner in a two-man practice) has heard legal practitioners come out with complaints about the reluctance of clients to pay, and indeed the expectation on the part of clients that, if they're not troubling their professional adviser too much, there's no need to pay.  On the one side the dialogue contains lines like: "Can I just ask you a quick question? It won't take you a minute to answer", or "To save us both the hassle of having to meet in person, I've just received this email and I'm not sure what it means: can I just read it out to you over the phone so you can clarify it for me ...".  On the other side, there's the classic: "What does he take me for --  a **** (insert number of asterisks corresponding to the preferred adjectival epithet) charity?"

Well, some clients do regard their legal representatives as charities --  for the very good reason that they are. This in turn raises the question whether the serried ranks of solo and small-scale IP practitioners should not also be giving serious consideration to the use of a charity as all or part of their business model.  After all, patent attorneys see more than they'd like from impecunious inventors and underfunded entrepreneurs, while struggling artists, composers, musicians, designers, dramatic performers and authors have spread their favours widely across the various IP professions over the past decades, with the latter often having little to show for it.

Incorporating the practice as a charity: saves all those
headaches about divvying up the partnership profits!
Anyway, from a recent Law Society Gazette post, "Charity sets up its own law practice", the following appears, in relevant part:
"A Leicester charity has become the first such not-for-profit organisation to set up and own a law firm. Castle Park Solicitors was set up as a community interest company with the help of National Lottery funding by local charity the Community Advice and Law Service.

The firm was set up to provide employment, immigration and family services to people ... who before this year’s legal aid cuts would have been eligible for public funding. It also offers mediation and collaborative law services.  ...

In the long term, any profits from the firm will be returned to the charity to support free advice in other areas of social welfare law.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority granted a special waiver of the separate business rules to the Community Advice and Law Service allowing it to set up Castle Park Solicitors.

Christine Palmer ..., employment solicitor at the firm, said: ‘Castle Park is run as a business separately to the charity with the same financial pressures that most law firms face today [Well, that rather reduces the appeal of this business model]. We have an ethical ethos [One rather hopes that all professional service suppliers do]. Unfortunately we cannot give the service for nothing but we have set our rates very competitively. Our aim is to help those people who can no longer get legal aid and simply cannot afford to pay for full private legal services' ...".
Does ownership by a charity, or even turning one's practice into one, have anything to commend it to the IP practitioner? Let's hear from you!

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