The legal search engine results in google

Is google ruining the legal information resources in it’s index ?

Online legal resources, like almost everything else online, provide an excellent free resource. Legal information historically had been the preserve of weighty legal tomes, almost indicipherable to someone not a trained and experienced lawyer, but the importance of the internet as a marketing tool has changed everything.

Many law firms have realized that the internet is an incredibly powerful and important way of communicating with potential clients. Those potential clients are generally not all that interested, if at all, in in-depth academic explanations of law or the latest legal nuance or case. Typically, those searching on the web for legal information want an overview, a guide which enables them to gain some understanding of the topic or the legal issue they are facing, whether this may, for example, relate to a situation where they are an employee with a possible unfair dismissal claim, a business which needs a shareholder agreementor you have lost a relative and need to apply for probate.

There are now a wealth of excellent resources on the web along the above lines, which are really helpful to non-lawyers and enable them to make more informed choices. So what’s the problem ?

Google is the dominant force in search, with over 90% of the market, and, as things stand, no viable challenger. As those who follow search engine marketing will know, google has gone on the rampage over the last 3-4 months, downgrading many thousands of sites due to what it claims is an attempt to clean up the web from spam. Many doubt this explanation – by shaking up the search results so much,  with many sites penalised, this has the result of these sites that have lost traffic deciding to do more pay per click, and who benefits from that – google !

The problem is, as we see it, watching the legal search results daily, that for many legal search terms, google search results have regressed or deteriorated hugely in the last few months. It has replaced and downgraded many of the better sites, albeit some of which have not stuck strictly to google’s rules, and replaced them with largely academic results, which google trusts more, simply because they are academic institutions.

The above is disappointing – google should sort this out out it many well start losing some of it’s domination if it’s search results remain so poor.

What is a maisonette?

The word Maisonette derives from the French word for house, “maison”, coupled with the diminutive “ette” to imply that it is a little house. However, in England, a maisonette is not exactly a little French house. In English, the exact definition of a maisonette is rather elusive, with a variety of answers offered by different sources. The Concise Oxford Dictionary provides that it is part of a house or block of flats which forms separate living accommodation which is usually spread over two floors and has its own entrance.

Modern varieties

Due to property being built and modified in ever-evolving ways living spaces are created which do not necessarily fall into a specific mould and yet still need to be described. Hence, something described as a maisonette may not always comply with the dictionary criteria previously outlined. Maisonettes usually have their own access and often an internal staircase, but can also include properties which have just one floor, albeit with a private staircase that leads up to it. Some maisonettes come with a garden; this is usually a small plot of land that is often shared with the adjoining property. Continue reading

Reasons for considering estate planning

Estate planning is a term used to describe the process of planning and arranging for the disposal of an estate and is often also used in the context of tax and other planning to ensure tax efficiency and preservation of hard earned assets for future generations.

What is covered by estate planning?

Estate planning is used in relation to a number of different matters relating to the broader concept of estate administration. Typically it refers to the following:

  • financial planning when making a will;
  • trusts;
  • powers of appointments;
  • property ownership (joint tenancy with rights of survivorship or tenancy in common);
  • gifts;
  • powers of attorney
  • Continue reading

Commercial law – what do clients want from lawyers ?

LexisNexis a leading provider of content and technology solutions in the legal research field has recently published outcome of its latest LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell research on law firm and client relationships in the Western European region. The report titled – ‘The Selection and Retention of Law Firms in Western Europe’, indicates that the quality of law firm’s team and expertise is of secondary importance as opposed to commercial awareness during the initial selection process.

The study demonstrates that the most important initial selection factor for in-house corporate counsels when choosing law firms is the knowledge and understanding of their particular corporate business model, business goals and corporate culture. The study was conducted between January and February 2012 in association with the Global Legal Post and includes personal feedback from 219 in-house corporate counsels from across 16 Western European countries.

Quality over cost

The report clearly indicates a trend for quality of work rather than its cost. The crucial factors for choosing a particular firm in the eyes of corporate counsels included: Continue reading

Instructing staff to break the law – what and why ?

In an extraordinary recent development, a well known and respected company director has encouraged his staff to break the law. This raises many moral and legal issues, and we would also have thought the potential of personal liability for the individual in question, not just corporate liability.

Bus lanes are not limited to buses. Cyclist, motorcycles and taxis (black cabs) are all permitted to use them. Normal vehicles are permitted to use some bus lanes during certain hours, which are marked before the bus lane and at certain points throughout the lane. If there is no sign then it usually means that the bus lane is in operation constantly. Continue reading

Guide to intellectual property rights

What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property is a commercial and legal term used to describe a number of different categories of creative products of individual creators who enjoy exclusive legal rights in respect of their creations. Intellectual property laws provide owners with protection and certain exclusive rights. The protected works include both tangible and intangible works including literary, musical, and artistic works, patents and inventions; creative and original words, phrases, symbols, and designs. The most common types of assets protected by intellectual property can be divided into two distinct categories namely, industrial intellectual property that includes patents, trademarks, industrial creations. The second category includes creative creations such as literary, artistic and musical works such as novels, paintings, songs and drawings.

How to ensure that intellectual property is protected?

Any original creation is protected by intellectual property law as soon as it is created and the owner can prove his or her work’s originality. There is no requirement for official registration with the UK Intellectual Property Office. Although the copyright protection is afforded automatically, there are certain steps that can be taken to avoid complications and disputes. A good method of making sure that a proper record of your work is documented is to deposit a copy of your work with a solicitor or a bank. Alternatively, you could also send yourself a copy of the work by Royal Mail Special Recorded Delivery, keep original receipt with the date and leave the envelope unopened upon its arrival.

It is important to remember that the above will merely prove that the work in question was in your possession at a given time in the past. None of the above methods will guarantee that your work is original. Somebody might have developed the same concept before you even had known about it.

Commercially, one good method of ensuring that your intellectual property is not violated is to apply for official trademark or patent and notify others of your rights. Many businesses use the international copyright symbol © to ensure that the public and other businesses are fully aware of the copyright protection in place.

How to effectively profit from intellectual property rights?

There are a number of ways through which you can profit from your intellectual property. In the case of patents, trademarks and copyrights it is common to generate profits through licensing and franchising arrangements. Some of the world’s most recognised brands operate as franchises including Subway and McDonald’s. In the franchising arrangement you pay franchising fee for the use and support of the brand owner. There are major advantages such as advertising sponsored by the franchise owner. Copyrights, trademarks and patents are very often licensed on both exclusive and non-exclusive basis. A good example of this would be one company paying the other  a licensing fee for the use of their logo. Dependent on whether the arrangement is exclusive (i.e. the trademark is granted on an exclusive basis meaning that the trademark owner is not allowed to grant the same or similar rights in respect of it to any other party than the licensee) or non-exclusive, the trademark or copyright owner will receive respectively either higher or lower licensing fee.

Patents are probably one of the most profitable rights as for a limited period of time (usually 20 years) they give the inventor exclusive rights for the use of the invention. The patent owner enjoys a monopoly and can either distribute and profit from the product him or herself or grant a non-exclusive or exclusive licence to third party in exchange for a fee. After the protected period of time passes the patent owner will need to make the patent publicly available.

Changing name by deed poll

Deed Poll

What is a Deed Poll?

A Deed Poll is a legally binding document which commits an individual to adhere to a particular action, usually a change of name.

It is worth noting that if you want to change your name in law you do not technically have to obtain a deed poll, you can simply start using an alternative name and create a legal change by using that name. In practice however, for passports, bank accounts and other official purposes most institutions will require a formal deed poll and this can usually be prepared by solicitors at a relatively modest cost.

A Deed Poll is signed by the individual initiating the action and a witness and will contain a set of declarations which, on signing the document, the individual has agreed to follow.

In the case of a name change the declarations within the Deed Poll would be:

  • For the individual to abandon the use of their former name/names
  • For the individual to use their new name only at all times
  • For all persons to address the individual by their new name only

A Deed Poll can be executed by anyone over the age of 16 so long as they are a British citizen. For individuals younger than 16 the execution of a Deed Poll can be carried out by the parents or legal guardian of the child.

A name change Deed Poll enables an individual to change their surname, forename, remove or add names or even change the order of existing names.

Witness Requirements

There are certain requirements for the person witnessing the individual signing the Deed Poll. The witness must:

  • Be over the age of 18
  • Be able to understand, read and speak fluent English
  • Reside at a different address from that of the individual
  • Be well known to the individual but not related to them. In most cases a professional is preferred to act as a witness, this could include a GP, solicitor, teacher or anyone in a prominent position who knows the individual well

Reasons for a Change in Name

There are numerous reasons why someone may want to change their name but probably the most common reason is when a woman wishes to change her married name back to her maiden name after the breakdown of her marriage.

In some instances a mother may also choose to change her children’s surnames to her maiden name rather than that of their father’s when the marriage has come to end.

Other instances of name change may include remarriage where the woman already has children from her previous marriage and wants them to take on their step father’s surname.

Adoptive parents will also more than likely want their adoptive child or children to take on their surname.

The change of name won’t generally come in to effect until the individual begins notifying companies of their name change and changing their details on items such as passports, driving licences, bank accounts and medical records.

IR35 – the basics

IR35 -Self-Employed / Employed Status

It is key that all businesses are aware of the legislation surrounding workers, whether they be employed, self employed or temporary / fixed term workers.

UK employment law draws no distinction between full time workers and part-time workers. They both attract the same protections with regards to employment rights. Part-time workers also have a right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of their part-time status. The distinction that is drawn with UK employment law is between employed and self employed workers. This is often a grey area and a potential mindful for small, medium, and large businesses.

It is not sufficient to merely label a worker employed or self-employed and think that will satisfy the revenue. An employer must properly assess the working situation that determines whether the worker is employed or self-employed. If the revenue were to overtake issue with the manner in which the business is treating the worker, they would not look solely at the contract for their status, but they would look behind that to the actual working relationship.

In the late 1990s, a large number of employees, began setting up limited companies, leaving their jobs and returning immediately as a Contractor purely in order to avoid tax. This was a well known practice and often encourage by companies. As a result the government introduced the IR35 legislation as a prevention.

The legislation applies if you carry out work through an intermediary, this is normally a limited company, to an end user where if there were a contract between you personally and the end user than that would be seen as an employment relationship. Potentially the legislation prevents worker using intermediary companies solely to avoid tax. It does not stop genuine freelance workers from establishing intermediary companies and working in that manner. The legislation is, however, a difficult area of law and it is important that companies seek advice at an early stage.

The test of personal service i.e. if the worker was providing service directly to the company would that establish an employment relationship is, a question of fact, and will turn on the appropriate circumstances. There are a number of factors which would go to suggest that a worker would be an employee, these include:

  • A provision of equipment – whether the worker provides their own equipment or the company provides it.
  •  Length of arrangement – it is more likely that an employee would have an indefinite contract whereas the contractors would normally have a set period.
  •  Benefits, do they receive paid leave, pension schemes, medical healthcare etc.
  •  Mutual obligations – does the company have an obligation to provide work, and does the worker have an obligation to carry out the work, or are they entitled to decide when they work with the company under no obligation to offer work at a particular stage.
  • Control – whilst a self-employed worker may be under some control from the company and not be to the same extent as an employee, the company will need to look at the way in which the service are performed and tasks carried out. Are they set out as required?
  •  Substitution – if the worker is allowed to substitute someone in their place, or engage the help of others. If they are then this would be a factor suggesting a self-employed relationship.

These are just some of the factors that can be taken into consideration when considering the status of the worker. The company should seek advice to assist to determine this.

If the company is engaging someone through an intermediary then there are likely to be two contracts involved. The first contract between the intermediary company and the worker are on the second company with a contract between the company and the intermediary for the provision of services. The revenue is most likely to look at the contract between the intermediary and the company, essentially trying to establish whether the company are in fact engaging with an intermediary or whether they are treating someone as an employee but merely using the intermediary arrangement as a method for the worker to evade income tax. There are number of provisions that should be drafted into this contract to ensure that it is IR35 compliance, these include the issues raised above, such as stating quite clearly there is no mutuality or obligations to provide or undertake work, outlining the treatment for taxation and the right to substitute a worker or in your place. Advice should be sought before agreeing an appropriate contract.

If IR35 applies, then income tax and national insurance contributions will be required. The revenue may also charge interest and penalties to the intermediary companies on overdue tax / national insurance contributions.

If the revenue decide that the company has knowingly treated their workers incorrectly i.e. as self-employed, with a view to evading the appropriate tax payments then they may be liable to very significant fines on the company, amongst other sanctions. For this reason the company needs to be very clear on their treatment of workers.

Consumer rights & law – 10 tips

10 Frequently Asked Questions on Consumer Law and Consumer Rights

1.    I purchased some items in a shop, but they are faulty. Can I return them?

Ignore the Policy that the shop has. Whatever their Policy, it cannot affect your Statutory Rights. If they try to say that their Policy overrides your Statutory Rights, this is untrue.  If on their Policy, they do not state that their Policy ‘does not affect your Statutory Rights’, point out to them that by not doing so, it is an offence, and if they continue to ignore you, contact your local Trading Standards Officer and report them for this misdemeanour.

2.    I have lost my receipt, but have a Bank Statement showing the date I purchase the goods from a particular shop. Will that be acceptable ?

You have to generally show proof of purchase., Ideally a receipt is the best form of proof, but failing that, a Bank Statement showing the amount paid on a particular day, should be sufficient.

3.    What are my Statutory Rights ?

Your Statutory Rights are those rights conferred to you in Law under various Act of Parliament, primarily the Sale of Goods and Services Act. Section 12, 13, and 14, reflect that what you purchase has to be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, at a reasonable price, and will last a reasonable length of time.

4.    I bought some jeans and they fell apart by the seams after only 2 weeks of purchase. Can I get my money back ?

Provided that you did not cause the seams to open by for example buying jeans too small for you and doing your best to fit in them, or else doing marathon training in them (as examples), you should be able to get a full refund.

5.    The shop will only exchange goods and will not refund me my money. Can they do that ?

They can certainly offer you such an exchange. They have to place you in a position that you would have been had the product been of satisfactory quality. If you are unhappy with the goods and you persist, you will get your money back.

6.    The shop refuses to refund me my money ?

You have recourse to try and mediate the matter, or else as a final resort to go to Court. Before doing so, Speak to your local Citizens Advice Bureau, or a local Solicitor to understand your rights, the costs involved, and the risks of proceeding.

7.    I want to go to Court. How do I do it ?

In 1999, Lord Woolf, overhauled the Civil Procedure Rules and created Pre-Action Protocols in order that the Parties to a dispute could fully understand the claim being made and issues involved, and could try and find a way to resolve matters without going to Court. If you do not follow the Pre-Action Protocol, the Courts usually take a dim view and if costs are awarded, not following such protocols is likely to count against you.

8.    Is there a Pre-Action Protocol that applies specifically to Consumer Law ?

There is not such a specific Pre-Action Protocol, but in the absence of a specific protocol, then Annex A at Paragraph 4 to the Practice Directions of the Pre-Action Protocols applies and you need to follow it, and set your case out accordingly, giving reasonable times for the offending Party to respond.

9.    I have exhausted the Pre-Action Protocol, and want to go to Court. How do I do it ?

If your claim is under £5,000 the Small Claims Procedure is likely to apply. This means that some days before a hearing of this matter, you will need to mutually exchange all documents and Statements you wish to rely upon, and also file a copy with the Court. Also, in a small claims procedure, legal costs are unlikely to be recovered unless the other side has behaved unreasonably, in which case the Court has discretion to award costs.

10.    Should I ever compromise my case ?

There are various adages which apply to Consumer Law and disputes generally: ‘There is no smoke without fire’…’This is a case of 6 of 1 and 1/2 a dozen of the other, or a case of 6 and 2, 3s’….If a shop offers you some compensation or monetary refund, think long and hard before rejecting it. Going to Court and following the procedure can be daunting and takes up lots of time, usually far more time than you would have wanted to spend. Consider the offer carefully and it is always sensible to take advice from a Citizens Advice Bureau, or a Solicitor.

E-petitions to try and change the law

Get 100,000 e- signatures on a Petition to Government

A new website enabling the public to lodge a petition to the Government electronically online has gone live. The plan is that a petition which gets 100,000 supporters ought to result in a debate on that issue in Parliament

Apparently, Government departments will moderate the petitions, with oversight from the office of the leader of the commons.

We wonder whether the system might be hijacked by people using it to sell petition votes like “likes” on facebook ?