Clients desert firm for mocking parents of disabled children
17 June 2016
A law firm has provoked public outrage and been ditched by several of its clients after gloating on Twitter that it had succeeded in an action to deny specialised education to disabled children.
When councils decide not to provide disabled children with specialised education, parents have a right to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. And Buckinghamshire firm Baker Small, run by director Mark Small, routinely advises local authorities at SEND tribunals. Given the sensitive and emotive nature of the disputes, the importance of not being seen to revel in victories would appear to be obvious.
On Saturday night, however, Small's firm decided to boast that it had beaten an appeal by parents who it mocked for not understanding the legal complexities of the ruling:
And in a further myopic response to criticism of the tweet, Small, who is understood to have operated the social media account, replied that parents who mistakenly believed they had won "make me smile
When the twittersphere reacted with disgust, Small attacked his detractors:
At one point, he tweeted a picture of a laughing kitten:
Demonstrating a limited understanding of where public sympathy lies, Small expressed bitterness that he was not congratulated for beating the parents of disabled children:
The next day, an abrupt change of tone indicated that the firm had belatedly realised the scale of its PR error:
After reading RollOnFriday's reproduction of the tweets, paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson commented that Baker Small's "gloating is horrible".
Stories in the mainstream media followed, and despite the firm's hungover apology tour, local authority clients deserted the firm in droves. Westminster, Cambridgeshire, Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, Buckinghamshire, Norfolk and Hertfordshire have all suspended their contracts with the firm or will wind up their dealings with it in the coming months. Adrian Loades, Cambridgeshire County Council's Executive Director for Children, Families and Adults, said, “We recognise the damage that these tweets have done to parental
Small, whose biography on his firm's website reveals that he was
twice nominated for the 'Solicitors in Local Government Young Solicitor of the
Year Award' for "his work with schools
", told RollOnFriday, "Inappropriate tweets were sent from the Baker Small twitter account, which in the context of the work we undertake both for public bodies and parents, were unacceptable and showed a lack of sincerity to Parents".
Adding that, "we recognise that offence was caused"
, which is reassuring because only a dead person could have missed it, he said, "we are sincerely sorry for the tweets and for the upset caused".
And, presumably, for the loss of fees.