Friday, May 11, 2012

‘Clients to lose millions in fights over wills’ as Law Society orders estates business of broke law firm Ross Harper sold to highest bidder

CLIENTS, bereaved families & beneficiaries of wills & estates handled by the now closed Glasgow law firm of Ross Harper stand to lose huge amounts of money and face many years of battles to secure any remaining funds for payout after it was revealed earlier this week the Law Society of Scotland ordered the sale of Ross Harper’s estates & wills business ‘to the highest bidder’ in order to help pay the fees of the Judicial Factor appointed by the Law Society and monies owed by the law firm.

The ‘highest bidder’ in a secretive bidding process not published by the Law Society turned out to be another Glasgow based law firm, Mitchells Roberton, who claim on their website to be “a highly respected and trusted Scottish law firm and one of the oldest in the country”, matching almost a similar claim put forward by the now defunct firm of Ross Harper, who are now caught up in allegations large quantities of cash were plundered from client accounts.

While the Ross Harper website still urges consumers “to trust” the now shut down law firm with their wills & executries, no formal statement has been issued by the Law Society of Scotland on its website about the sale of the wills & estate business to another law firm.

As of this morning the Ross Harper website said : Trust Ross Harper to help handle your bereavement...

Our Wills & Executries Team can assist you with
Preparation of Wills
Administration of Estates
Executry disputes
Legal rights claims
Powers of Attorney
Establishing and administering Trusts

A legal insider speaking to Scottish Law Reporters this morning revealed that no clients, bereaved families or beneficiaries who were already dealing with Ross Harper over wills & related business were consulted by the Law Society who rushed through the sale to Mitchells Roberton.

He alleged the sale of the wills & estates business “was steamrolled through on Law Society orders in an effort to prevent further embarrassing headlines rather than protect what was left of any residual estates or cash from wills left in the Ross Harper client accounts”

The Herald newspaper has also reported on the sale of the wills & executry business of Ross Harper, noting that one client at least, managed to save himself from the bitter pill of having to fight the Law Society of Scotland for a decade to return any missing funds via the Society’s “Guarantee Fund” which itself is under scrutiny for decades long delays in payouts and the highest failure rate of claims of any insurance policy.

Scottish Law Reporter recently reported on experts claims that victims of fraud at Ross Harper face up to ten years of wait to recover any funds they have lost. Read more on that HERE. The original SLR report on Ross Harper which stirred up quite a bit of debate and input can be read HERE

The Herald reports :

Families face Ross Harper wills battle after sell-off

Alison Campsie
Senior News Reporter

FORMER employees of stricken law firm Ross Harper have criticised a decision to sell off the company's wills and estates business to the highest bidder in order to help pay its bills.

Some have claimed the move will add further stress to grieving families trying to secure funds from a relative's estate.

The wills and estates business will now be handled by Mitchells Roberton, with clients due to be informed of the development in writing over the coming days.

Some families will, however, have to fight to retrieve contents of an estate secured by Ross Harper before April 5 – the day when financial investigators were called in and the company bank accounts frozen.

They will have to apply to the Solicitors' Guarantee Fund to access the money owed to them, but some could still be left out of pocket, given that the fund does not always cover the full losses incurred.

One former Ross Harper employee said: "If it wasn't bad enough dealing with a family member dying, they have the added stress of not dealing with someone they had built up a relationship with, and trying to recover money – and they may not get all the money back.

"The judicial factor should have just passed the files to the solicitor who has moved on to another firm so he could continue to deal with his clients."

Ross Harper, which was in business for 50 years, was once considered one of Scotland's most successful high street law firms.

It ceased trading on April 30 after a financial investigator, appointed following Law Society of Scotland concerns over the use of client accounts, found there was not enough money available to pay wages and keep the business going.

Thousands of former clients of the firm are owed money, and it has also left a string of creditors. It is known that Ross Harper owed £50,000 in rent for one of its premises, with the firm owing substantially more on the lease for its main office in West Regent Street, Glasgow.

Interim judicial factor Ian Mitchell, of Henderson Loggie, could not confirm yesterday how many former clients of Ross Harper would be affected by the sale of the wills and estates business.

He defended the move to sell the accounts, given his job was to "achieve the best outcome" for Ross Harper, its former clients and creditors.

He said: "I considered offers from all interested parties and engaged in extensive negotiations in order to achieve the best outcome for the firm. Mitchells Roberton presented the best offer and successfully acquired the work."

Work is continuing to find a suitable buyer for the conveyancing and civil arm of the firm.

Experts used by the firm in court cases, such as forensic scientists, are known to be among those who have been left without payment.

A total of 23 staff have been made redundant at Ross Harper, while others jumped ship as the company started to unravel. Its four partners remain suspended from practice as the interim judicial factor's investigation continues. Mr Mitchell's appointment is due to be made permanent this week.

One former client of Ross Harper has spoken of his relief that he did not pay the contents of his mother's estate into its company account.

The man, who asked not to be named, turned to the solicitors for help in finalising his mother's personal affairs after her death.

He said: "I went with Ross Harper because they had been around for a long time and they were virtually a high street brand.

"They went to court to sort out some title deeds and they wanted me to transfer the money from the estate to them so they could administer it. That is something I declined. I am so happy now I didn't give them the estate."


Anonymous said...

Warning signs the clients should be looking at are the Chairman of Mitchells Robertson is an expert witness in negligence cases for lawyers and we all know where those end up (in the bin after 10 years and £200k spent by clients denied legal aid and lawyers to fight it)

Donald Reid – Partner & Chairman

Born, raised and educated in Glasgow Donald gained an M.A. and LLB at the University of Glasgow becoming a Partner in Mitchells Roberton in 1978. He is a specialist in property law dealing mainly in commercial transactions, security work and property related company matters. He is listed in the Law Society of Scotland’s approved Directory of Expert Witnesses relative to professional negligence claims.

Anonymous said...

Mitchells Roberton were also against the Scottish Government's home reports packs see here

"The Scottish Government told us it was only solicitors who opposed Home Reports and refused to engage with us," says Ian Ferguson a spokesman for the Scottish Law Agents' Society (SLAS) and an expert in property law with Glasgow solicitors Mitchells Roberton.

"Now, with just days to go, we find that it does not even have the major lenders on board to back the scheme. Barclays Bank, RBS and possibly HBOS are reported as saying they will not recognise Home Reports. To have gone ahead without their backing was breathtakingly bad judgment and highly irresponsible.

"It also breaks promises to the public on its website that purchasers can rely on the Home Reports and will not need their own report. Sellers were also told they would pay once only for the sale and not for their new purchase.

"Worse still, the Scottish Government's plans will affect the disadvantaged such as those who have financial problems, are facing eviction, are unemployed or are old people with no savings," he said.

Anonymous said...

Whoever these clients are who pay money over to lawyers to keep for them must be brainless.

Maybe the staff should have told the clients to get their money out before the Law Society marched in with all guns blazing.

Anonymous said...

Sounds a bit crooked but of course this is wills we are talking about and where there's a will there's a flaming crooked lawyer!

Anonymous said...

From the Herald "They will have to apply to the Solicitors' Guarantee Fund to access the money owed to them, but some could still be left out of pocket, given that the fund does not always cover the full losses incurred."


Anonymous said...
Firm Announcement
Posted on May 10, 2012
We can announce that we have arranged with the Interim Judicial Factor who is handling Messrs Ross Harper’s affairs and looking after the interests of the former clients of Ross Harper to take delivery of Wills, Title Deeds and other documents that Ross Harper held for clients. We are writing to clients to introduce ourselves and will write in due course to let them know what documents we are holding for them.

If any clients of Ross Harper have any questions please do not hesitate to contact Elizabeth Baker on 0141 552 3422.

Anyone have any confidence in the winners of a secret bidding process ordered by the Law Society?

Not me!Also no consultation with any client if they wanted their wills/deeds transferred to another law firm.

Anonymous said...

"I considered offers from all interested parties and engaged in extensive negotiations in order to achieve the best outcome for the firm."

Oh I see, so as usual the best interests of the clients are not even worthy of mention.

Anonymous said...

What fails to be mentioned is that Donald reid was at Ross harpers 50th birthday dinner before the collapse of the firm and donald Reid was recommended to Iain mitchell the judicial factor as a reliable source by Alan miller. That in itself is a joke that Iain Mitchell took advice from one of the partners. It will sbe interesting to find out how much their bid for the wills was compared to the other interested firms. A closing date should have been set for receipt of offers. Then there is the matter of the ex employees who cannot obtain jobs seekers allowance as Ross harper had not been paying the tax and national insurance contributions. Why does the judicial factor have to say About thtat

Anonymous said...

From the comment at 9:49 PM it sounds like the deal to sell off the wills business is as crooked as one would expect it to be