Friday 16 October 2015

Sally Cooper gets worried about Phishing with some thoughts on Client Money

Keep dialling there must be one lawyer left?
As patent and trademark agents we have become all too familiar with the misleading invoice scams our client's suffer, but now there is a much bigger threat, especially for those of us who hold client money or even have our own funds in the bank. It's called phishing and might involve:
  •  receiving a telephone call supposedly from your bank telling you that your account has been compromised and you need a new one.
  • or more innovatively an email that purports to come from a supplier, perhaps an overseas agent, telling you of their new bank account details.
The solicitors regulation authority reports that no fewer than 50 solicitors firms have lost money this way.  Here is a BBC news story about one of them. Karen was a solo practitioner.

Sally Cooper Has drawn my attention to some very helpful advice at the Manchester Law Society is recently sent out to their members. I suppose it's to advertise their cyber security and risk conference on the 5 November. It is open to nonmembers if you really want to get scared and be persuaded to move to a cloud operator. However awareness of the risksand a few simple precautions should provide an effective defence.

  • Be extremely cautious about phone calls from your bank. If you choose to ring them back, do it on another totally unconnected line
  • If you have staff,train them to be aware of potential threats including bogus emails and suspicious requests for information and forbid them to make transfers without your consent.
  • Doublecheck any new bank account details supplied to you for payments
  • Be even more careful about money in your client account
Meanwhile IPReg has provided us with some more information about managing our client accounts and keeping client money separate. They have now confirmed this can just be a separate business account but if you can open a trust account do. This is what they are telling our clients about keeping on top of costs. It introduces the idea that the client must give informed consent if you are actually going to spend his advance payment on providing the services for him.

For those of you charging fixed fees in advance, you need to read this carefully. While they are stressing that there is no compensation available to your clients, they are also imposing an almost impossible burden of getting this informed consent. They are also providing an expectation to make refunds if the work is not completed for any reason. They're not giving any examples of why work might not be completed.  A few examples would have gone a long way to illustrate their thinking.

For example, I've agreed a fixed fee for preparing and filing a patent application. If the client changes their mind or fails to respond to my first draft what level of refund are they expecting under this policy?

It's more straightforward if the fixed fee is for something that is completed quickly like filing a trademark application. However, I also offer some clients a soup to nuts fee for trademarks. Are they going to expect a refund if there is an opposition. The terms need to be quite clear  that its fixed provided that there are no absolute grounds objections or oppositions, and if there are, there are no refunds. Our terms and conditions are going to burgeon, and what if somebody intercepts your email requesting bank account details for that refund?  Fortunately, by not handling the enormous sums dealt with by property lawyers we are a less lucrative target.

1 comment:

  1. An email from the Manchester Law Society says there will be a LIVE HACK during the Conference on 5th November ........ not something you come across every day !