Trowers & Hamlins had changed its rules so that its solicitors no longer get to keep the fees from taking statutory declarations and swearing oaths.

Previously the fee for signing a stat dec (usually £5 a pop) was a perk of the job at Trowers, as it is at most firms, providing solicitors with a little extra pocket money. 

But now walk-ins who want a document stamped at the firm's Middle East offices are filling Trowers' pockets instead. Its Abu Dhabi, Oman, Bahrain and Dubai offices have been instructed to compel its England and Wales-qualified solicitors to hand over the cash they make from oaths, statutory declarations and certification of documents, said a source.

A reporter posed as an expat seeking a stat dec for his seventh UK buy-to-let back in the UK, and was able to confirm in calls to Trowers' Middle East offices that a 210 dirham fee inclusive of VAT (equating to an extremely hefty £45) would be charged, cash-only, and would go to the firm. 


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Trowers and one of its lawyers.


Close to £100,000 has poured into Trowers coffers as a result, said a source, with proceeds labelled as "extra income" which was "voluntarily donated" to the firm.

"Even partners are being forced to certify documents throughout the day for expats walking in off the streets", railed an insider, "to make as much money as possible for the greedy London HQ".

But a partner (not from Trowers) suggested that it was fairer for the cash to be sent to the employers for distribution as they saw fit. "Actually the idea that money employees earn for stuff they do at work going to the firm and being shared out, rather than just being kept by the individual, is not that controversial really", he said.

Trowers declined to comment.

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Comments

3-ducks 06 September 19 09:15

It amazes me how many firms do this. Unbelievable penny-pinching even by the elevated standards of the legal profession.

WorkingInMyGarden 06 September 19 10:53

At my last firm, I suggested that we could just have a box at reception for our nominated charity, and then lawyers who so chose could deposit their stat dec fees. Then our receptionist explained to me after a number of months than I was the only one donating out of our 90+ solicitors. Another minor shrivelling of the soul.

Anonymous 06 September 19 11:17

@10:53

But you just said that it is up to each lawyer as to whether they wish to donate? What happens if they donate the money to charities of their own choice or simply wish to keep the £5 as a very minor perk of the job?

Get off your high horse.

Curious Clive 06 September 19 11:27

£100k! How many do they do?!

I have always found it a bit strange that solicitors charge a fiver for this which they pocket rather than doing it as a freebie or charging it at their normal hourly rates - and haven't really come up with a better explanation to a client than explaining that it's a quirk of the system  

Lydia 06 September 19 12:36

I remember the day a kind receptional sent me down to so £110 worth as she knew I had three babies to feed at home.

ShootyMcShootyface 06 September 19 12:52

i think some rules have changed recently. I used to get 5 or 6 swears a week, to do with convenyancing and wills and probate. 

F All for the last couple of weeks. hey ho.

My best one was about 10 years. Friendly Bham city council chap had 113 things to swear in one morning as some rules were changing. My firm at the time had a looooooooong board room table. like, 18 foot. We lined them up and went a-signing.

I went to greece the next day (pre-planned) with 565 extra beer tokens.

Which I obviously properly declared and paid the appropriate amount of tax on, as I always do. Obviously. Always. Oh yes indeed.

Human 06 September 19 12:54

Makes no sense (and in the UK would be a breach of PAYE and VAT rules) for employees to pocket professional fees for legal or ancilliary services rendered.

If they mess this up (difficult but not impossible, e.g. didn't check ID documents properly leading to a fraudulent declaration by someone other than the person who ought to be making it) , they are covered by the firm's insurance.  They are entitled to administer these declarations because the firm is paying their prac cert. And 100k isn't small change either.

Lawyers are extremely well paid for for doing their job. There is a gross sense of entitlement here and it isn't being exhibited by the firms.

Sweary 06 September 19 13:57

This used to be always given to junior lawyers and they'd use the spare cash for lunches.  Normally we had to chip a couple of quid to the receptionist or you'd never get called down to reception again.  For a massive firm the amount raised is chicken feed for the amount of work involved.  Also, what lawyer is going to spend the time to do a swear when there's a timesheet to fill?

Anonymous 06 September 19 14:08

Aren't swears classified as a fee for services rendered as an "officer of the court", therefore none taxable and also not due to the firm?

Anon 06 September 19 14:14

Actually the solicitors charge the swearing fees according to the Commissioners for Oaths (Fees) Order.

The solicitors also don't have to pay VAT on the fees unless they are registered for VAT in their own right, although if the firm takes the fees from the individuals then the firm does have to pay VAT. 

@DanRJohnson 06 September 19 15:12

This is just plain WRONG in terms of English legal practice - and - reveals Trowers & Hamlins' complete lack of understanding of what the swear fee is for.

The fee is meant to be a small / frequently earned financial contribution - towards the potential for the relevant Solicitor to have to spend considerable unpaid time many years later (when the sworn document might be the subject of court proceedings).

I was articled to a principal -who had been obliged to spend the best part of three (~3) weeks siting outside a court room - because the Lloyds' name who's false affidavit he'd witnessed being sworn (nearly fifteen (~15) years before - when he was with an entirely different firm) denied he'd sworn it / that it was his signature etc.

Trowers action should (/ will - if their lawyers have any sense? . . .) dissuade their Solicitors from witnessing swearing - Why should / would they if it does not have benefit for them, but rather places them at risk of wasted time? > Leading to English law / commercial practice losing a valuable facility that Solicitors should protect for the good of the profession.

The general perception of hopeless / clueless law firms who can only make a living by 'playing in a sandbox' with unsophisticed clients is yet further strenghtened . . .                

Barry Mellow 06 September 19 18:50

Shambolic performance by this firm’s Middle East offices again! Partners departing, falling revenues and third world rules regulating behaviour. Just gets better each year. Even if one was to play devils advocate here and acknowledge that some lawyers may wish to contribute, but others may not but there’s a three line whip. If they charge VAT and put it through books - doesn’t it mean the walk-ins become clients. Any regulatory lawyers here ? I smell a rat. Or it could be that, just because it’s taking place in the Middle East, the usual rules don’t apply. So many firms take this approach. Just because they operate out there they can behave as they see fit. This needs to change.

May be the lawyers get paid so much they can afford to re-invest into the firm or this is the firm’s way to increase its partner pool because 100k does sound a lot, which could mean that it has more partners who have unwillingly purchased equity. Good career move for an NQ. 

Anon 06 September 19 19:43

This has, I’m afraid, been a revelation to me after 35+ years’ admission. Previously partner in large firm, now in small niche practice. I have never encountered any occasion on which a swear fee was not paid to the firm, which is where it belongs. 

I hope HMRC don’t read the other comments on this article...

Dearie 06 September 19 23:35

Been lucky enough not to meet a firm that keeps the fee - just too much admin for a start and, as another has noted, it’s specifically permitted for the solicitor to keep the fee and it’s VAT free. As a trainee I did about 1 a week or fortnight but we had a rotation system between trainees and receptionist would just ping an email to us. Besides, no one else had time. When I left my old shop I had to teach my qualified colleagues how do a swear....

Born Fee 08 September 19 10:01

I am pretty sure the fee required under the legislation has to go to the solicitor personally for it to be valid. If extra bunce is added on top then I guess it is up to the firm.

Lollercopters if all these stat decs are rendered invalid by a firm enforced policy. 

Been doing this too long 10 September 19 07:28

well I had to get a document sworn in front of another Dubai firm touting to be English solicitors, who strangely aren’t regulated by the SRA. They charged AED200 per signature. This was back in 2016. The chap who saw me told me he didn’t get to keep a penny. My document was 15 pages long and every page needed a signature.

the firm didn’t discount at all. Cost me £1,000 in all.

absolutely scandalous and the associate who did it told me his senior partner saw it as her money.

problem is that in Dubai, the locals love having everything notarised and certified

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