A law firm that says it has made more than £1 million by sending threatening ‘pay or else’ letters to alleged file-sharers in the UK, will now face a disciplinary tribunal. ACS:Law, believed to be the most complained about law firm in its field, has been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. This is the second time in front of the tribunal for principal Andrew Crossley.
ACS:Law and its boss Andrew Crossley are certainly leaders in their field. They have generated more bad press for lawyers in the IP sector than any other firm in recent history and have turned the lives of countless innocent people completely upside down with their demands for cash to make non-existent file-sharing lawsuits to go away.
The Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) is a body which regulates in excess of 110,000 solicitors in the UK and are the regulatory body of the Law Society of England and Wales. They exist to serve the public by ensuring that disreputable lawyers are kept in check. They have been very busy indeed dealing with the fallout from Mr Crossley’s activities.
In September 2009, complaints made to the SRA about the conduct of ACS:Law constituted more than 16% of all complaints to the body for the whole month. As of July 8th 2010, the SRA had received a staggering and unprecedented 418 official complaints from members of the public, a record in the IP sector.
The SRA had been slow to deal with this admittedly huge task but for the thousands affected by ACS:Law’s activities, light is on the horizon.
In 2009, consumer group Which? filed a complaint against ACS:Law in which it accused the law firm of bullying recipients of its threatening letters. Which? has been most vocal on the issue and have committed significant resources to dealing with the problem – its work is now beginning to pay off.
Today, Which? reports that the SRA is now referring Andrew Crossley to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
The Tribunal adjudicates upon breaches of professional conduct and exists to protect the public by maintaining the reputation of the legal profession. It has significant powers including the ability to fine, reprimand or even strike off a lawyer.
“We welcome this decision because we’ve received so many complaints from consumers who believe they been treated appallingly by this law firm,” said Deborah Prince, Which?’s head of legal affairs.
“We also believe that it’s time for the profession to take action against law firms, and those responsible for them, which behave in a way we believe most right-thinking people would view as both aggressive and bullying.”
Crossley is no stranger to disciplinary action at the hands of the SDT having previously been admonished and fined for behaving in a way “unbefitting” of a lawyer.
BeingThreatened.com, a consumer group dedicated to offering help and support to those targeted by file-sharing settlement letters, welcomed the news that ACS:Law will have to answer for their tactics.
“We also echo the comments of Which? that the process appears very drawn out and consumer unfriendly,” a spokesman told us. “We would also welcome clarification from the SRA as to whether a temporary hold has been enforced on the continued practice of ACS:Law in relation to filesharing cases or if they will be free to continue their campaign unabated until the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has ruled.”
“Should ACS:Law be free to continue with their existing methods, BeingThreatened.com believes many more innocent people may be subjected to heavy handed tactics before the situation is resolved.”
While copyright holders have every right to take action in appropriate cases, the extreme methods employed by ACS:Law have been astonishing. For the sake of the legal profession and all of the bullied letter recipients, let’s hope that this is the very last time that Mr Crossley is brought before the SDT.