Like many of you I followed the damp squib that was the mid-season football transfer window earlier this month. Like many of my fellow Aston Villa fans, I also bemoaned the failure of now dismissed manager Paul Lambert to create any sort of threat, even against better structured teams composed of objectively inferior players; this despite his having signed some promising new stars to supplement a theoretically very strong line-up. It really struck me as I watched us crash into the relegation zone this week that no amount of individual talent will ever be a proper substitute for a good level of understanding between team members working together towards a shared objective. This is as true in the professions as it is in football.
At Paris Smith, we understand the concept of a team being more than the sum of its parts, and we are constantly endeavouring to ensure that, unlike AVFC (at the moment), we can put all of our various legal and commercial skills down on the pitch and knit them together to achieve the desired goals, for our clients and for ourselves. Indeed, we have just launched the next generation of our interactive football-themed team sheet (also known as an Organogram, available by clicking on the image below).
The Organogram is designed to demonstrate our strength in depth (recently recognised in Chambers 2015) and in the variety of skills most often sought by insolvency practitioners and others in need of insolvency-related legal services. The re-launch marks the integration into the squad of a couple of new but experienced players, and also celebrates the fact that Richard Atcherley, who leads our corporate transaction offering for distressed businesses, has been promoted to LLP Partner in the firm.
So what of the insolvency profession itself, whom we are doing our best to serve? Well, my December insolvency blog focused largely on the common perils which the insolvency profession, lawyers and creditors would face in the New Year from an unprecedented level of government consultation and intervention. Sadly the year then got off to a bad start with news that the government is looking to hike the bankruptcy threshold all the way up to £5,000 in October (see David Eminton’s blog here), a move which I believe will cause real difficulties for lower level creditors. We then had confirmation that we are looking at the lowest reported level of formal insolvency proceedings in a decade, albeit we know these statistics belie the continued existence of a staggering amount of debt in the UK economy and a seeming lack of political will to allow the market to get on and heal itself without constant and misguided tinkering. Only this week, legislative changes concerning the provision of utilities, IT and other essential services following insolvency were debated in the corridors of power and watered down in favour of the service providers. Once again, it seems that there is insufficient political capital in lending the insolvency profession better tools with which to do its job.
Bucking this trend, however, it has been heartening in my role as Vice-Chairman of R3 in the South to witness a number of stakeholder groups putting aside their traditional rivalries and taking up arms together against the single worst decision the government has taken with regard to insolvency; if not reversed, this will from April 2015 cost creditors (including us all as taxpayers) something like £160m annually in lost dividends from insolvency cases. I say this notwithstanding that I will in any given year likely represent as many directors facing claims as IPs bringing them, because steps which deprive creditors of cost effective routes of redress and access to justice can ultimately only serve to undermine confidence in British business as a whole.
For my part, I have absolute confidence that everything that can be done between now and 1st April – both in Parliament and behind the scenes – will be done to ensure that (even at the eleventh hour) the insolvency profession might retain its exemption from the dangerous impact of the Jackson litigation reforms. A vast number of us have written to our MPs, some have been offered meetings in Westminster, and there remains hope that common sense will eventually prevail.
At risk of sounding like a ‘party political forecast’ on behalf of the insolvency industry, I would just say this: Whilst the overall climate for insolvency-related services seems set to remain somewhat frosty for some time to come, there is cause to hope that if the whole profession continues to speak so far as possible with one voice, as a team if you will, Spring may yet arrive. Whatever the final standings in great parliamentary debates (or the English Premier League for that matter) by May 2015, let us continue to engage with these various issues as a profession, let us stand up to be counted and not roll over to be walked upon; only through teamwork can we truly aspire to greater things.