SRA Begins Action On Firms Not Meeting Transparency Requirements

The SRA has imposed sanctions on four law firms for failing to meet the transparency requirements introduced in 2018. Published decision notices show Manchester firm AWH Legal was fined £2,000, London firm Sal & Co Solicitors was fined £1,000, while Bath firm Renney & Co Solicitors and Bristol practice Bradford & Co were both rebuked. All firms were ordered to pay £300 costs. AWH Legal had not published details of its costs and complaints procedure on its website, as required […]

SRA Demands Law Firms Step Up Money Laundering Checks

Mark Boyle, policy lead on anti-money laundering for the SRA has stated that law firms must learn exactly where their clients’ money is coming from if they want to effectively fight money laundering. The statement was made at the Regulator’s compliance conference. Mr Boyle stated : “The key is knowing who your client is and understanding who your client is and understanding why they have come to you – does it make sense? ‘You really need to be checking how […]

Two Recent Solicitor Dishonesty Cases

There have been several recent cases of dishonesty before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) following Solicitors Regulation Authority investigations (SRA). Below is a summary of two of these decisions and what can be learnt from them. SRA v Williams, 14 September 2020 (date of consideration of Agreed Outcome) In SRA v Williams, the SDT heard that Ms Williams was alleged to have altered a fee note sent from a Chambers to disguise the true date on which she made payment. […]

Lawyers, Ethics, and Social Media

Without moving too far into the controversial political sphere, it is safe to say that the current UK Government’s commitment to the Rule of Law is slightly lacking. From the move to prorogue Parliament in 2019 (deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court), to the current Internal Market Bill, it seems laws are seen as an obstruction rather than the glue that holds domestic and international communities together. Unfortunately, solicitors and barristers, especially those who practise in the area of immigration, […]

Legal Services Consumer Panel Suggests Spot Checks On Lawyers

The Legal Services Consumer Panel is concerned that clients have limited means of knowing whether a solicitor is competent and has ensured his or her skills have been updated throughout what can be a long career. A letter from Panel Chair Sarah Chambers, addressed to the Legal Services Board set out the following concerns: “The Panel believes that a lawyer’s initial education and training cannot offer a career-long guarantee of competence. There can be substantive changes in the law, in […]

SRA Issues New Warning Notice in relation to Advising On Investment Schemes

On 17 August 2020, the SRA issued a warning notice stating that solicitors need to be vigilant when it comes to providing advice on investment schemes. The notice is an update on a pre-existing notice, which was first published in June 2017. The notice states, amongst other things, that solicitors must watch out for: “Transferring funds through their client account, without the transactions being connected to any underlying legal work Doing no real legal work and legal fees are being […]

Latest Claims Of Sexual Misconduct In Law Firms

On 12 June 2020, Baker McKenzie’s former London senior partner was fined £55,000 for serious professional misconduct. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) found that Gary Senior attempted to embrace and kiss a junior colleague in 2012 and then tried to use his senior position to influence the investigation into the incident. Mr Senior also had to pay £40,000 to cover the Solicitor Regulatory Authority’s (SRA) costs. However, the firm, along with two of its former members, were cleared by the […]

Protecting your Law Firm from Unintended SRA Breaches Due to Coronavirus Homeworking

The current Coronavirus pandemic is posing a considerable headache for businesses across the length and breadth of the UK, and indeed the whole world. Law firms are needing to react quickly to ensure the continuity of their operations. Indeed, this week many Solicitors have been urgently setting up their home offices and implementing restrictions for social distancing. Law firms switching to a home working model do need to be careful, however, that in doing so, they are not inadvertently breaching […]

Why Should I Consider An SRA Agreed Outcome

In November 2019, it was reported by the Law Gazette that the number of ‘sitting days’ for the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) this year is projected to be “vastly” down (26%) on last year. This represents a reduction in sitting days from 406 in 2019 to 300; a considerable reduction by any measure. In part, it is believed this is due to the increase in disciplinary cases resolved by the SRA by entering into ‘Agreed Outcomes’ with the Respondents. But […]

Sexual Misconduct At Record Levels Within The Law Profession

January was not a positive month for the UK legal sector press coverage. Firstly, following a Freedom of Information response by the SRA, and as reported in The Guardian, it has been revealed that reports of sexual misconduct within law firms have more than doubled in less than five years (to 63 in 2018/19). Only a few days later, the Financial Times published an article entitled, ‘Drinking culture in legal world under scrutiny following scandals’. While of course, the overwhelming […]

A 60 Second Guide To Regulatory Settlement Agreements

Fortunately, not all Solicitors Regulation Authority investigations result in formal prosecution and an appearance in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT). Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to negotiate a Regulatory Settlement Agreement with the SRA. Similar to attempts to settle civil litigation matters early, all negotiations related to a Regulatory Settlement Agreement are without prejudice. What is a Regulatory Settlement Agreement? A Regulatory Settlement Agreement is a formal agreement entered into by the SRA and the solicitor/law firm. […]

How Solicitors Can Survive An SRA Investigation

Few things cause a solicitor or Manager of a law firm more stress and anxiety than news that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is conducting an investigation into their practice. If you have an understanding of the process however, along with properly organised files and accounts and the assistance of professional support in the event that an interview is requested, an SRA investigation can be dealt with in a calm, pragmatic manner. The SRA investigation procedure Naturally, little notice is […]

Changes to SRA Rules and Accounts Rules

As part of their recent Looking to the Future programme, the SRA took the bold decision to significantly simplify and reduce the prescriptiveness of its Account Rules. The result of this effort is the replacement of the SRA Handbook, with the slim-line SRA Standards and Regulations, which come into force on 25th November 2019. But what are the changes, and how will these affect law firms? Some of the changes are listed below. Simplified and condensed The SRA Handbook, while […]

How To Avoid And Challenge An SRA Intervention

An SRA intervention is the SRA’s nuclear weapon. If your firm is currently being investigated and you fear an intervention may be possible, you must take the situation seriously. An SRA intervention can destroy not only a practice, but the career of a solicitor. The SRA may give advance warning that an intervention is imminent, but they may not. The power to intervene is contained in Schedule 1 of the Solicitors Act 1974. There are comparable powers relating to licensed […]

Solicitors Need To Take Care With NDAs

Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) have suddenly become controversial. The use of NDAs in the context of protecting sensitive commercial information and trade secrets continues to pose no immediate problem.  However, solicitors instructed to produce a document designed to prevent one party from complaining or seeking support for alleged abuse within the workplace, even at a subtle level, must now proceed with the utmost caution. In March 2018, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) issued a warning regarding the use of NDAs which […]

The Law Society v The SRA

Fresh Attempt To Strengthen Client Protection Concerning Freelance Solicitors. The Law Society has recently asked the Legal Services Board (LSB) to impose extra requirements on solicitors who may otherwise be free to offer legal services without insurance in the employment of an unregulated business. Although the LSB has effectively approved the reforms, they can be amended. The Law Society’s President, Christina Blacklaws, in a letter to the LSB, stated: “Freelance solicitors (or at least those providing reserved services) are required […]

New Decision Throws Doubt On Solicitors’ Ability To Rectify Own Mistake

It is common practice for solicitors, upon spotting a mistake, to offer to rectify their error at the firm’s own expense. This is often a more cost-effective solution for the client than insisting they go to a new law firm for independent advice. The client is always free to choose another law firm to rectify the mistake and must be advised they can sue their current solicitor for professional negligence (if this is the case). However, the recent case of […]

Mind Your Language – Solicitors And Social Media

Social media is undoubtedly one of the biggest phenomena of the past decade, affording us unprecedented access to the lives and opinions of others. Whether you love using social media, or actively avoid it, it is here to stay. One of the downsides, as many see it, is that social media is not compatible with personal privacy. Comments, posts, photos, videos, likes, memes, and emoticons provide a permanent record of your thoughts and opinions. And for career professionals, this can […]

What are the Character and Suitability Requirements for Aspiring Solicitors?

The legal profession is not for everyone; as with any occupation, there are particular characteristics which contribute to a successful career in law, and top grades at law school is not necessarily one of them. Honesty, and strong moral and ethical approach to law practice is just as important. SRA Bans Solicitor for being ‘offensive, insulting and threatening’ There are very solid reasons why the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) demands the highest personal and professional standards of those on its […]

Overhauling the UK Money Laundering SARs Regime

Make no mistake, money laundering is a major global epidemic, involving sums of money potentially in the trillions of US dollars. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), money laundering is estimated to range in value from 2 – 5% of global GDP, which at the higher end, equates to US$2 trillion. In the words of UNODC, “the deeper “dirty money” gets into the international banking system, the more difficult it is to identify its origin”. […]

Solicitors and the Media

Solicitors are often called on to deal with media enquiries. From commenting on a particular development of law to acting as a media representative of a client and their family, dealing with the press is part and parcel of working in the law. However, as with everything in the legal profession, rules and ethics apply to how a solicitor speaks to the media, especially if it is on behalf of a client. Earlier this month, the Law Society Gazette reported […]

What Is A Section 43 Order And How To Defend Against One

In October 2018, the High Court ordered a retrial after the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) found Francisco Rodriguez-Purcet, the former head of marketing and business development at a now-defunct law firm (Tandem Law), guilty of dishonesty. It transpired that the Defendant had a long history of mental illness and was not given a chance to defend himself. The SDT’s decision led to a section 43 Order, which allows the SRA to regulate any non-qualified persons working in a law firm. […]

What does liberalisation of the legal market mean for the UK law industry?

The UK legal market has always been a bastion of robust regulation and oversight, but things are about to change drastically. Earlier in 2018, the SRA submitted plans to the Legal Services Board (LSB) aimed at liberalising the legal sector.  In part, the aim of the recommendations was to allow self-employed solicitors to become freelancers – effectively meaning they would practise law outside of the control of the SRA.  On the face of it, this may seem an odd recommendation […]

Three Solicitors Struck Off For Dishonesty After Court Rejects Mental Health Arguments

The anticipated case of Solicitors Regulation Authority v James & Ors was decided last week, ending the careers of three solicitors, and causing severe division within the profession. The case originated out of an SRA appeal against the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal’s (SDT) decision to invoke a sentence of suspended suspension as opposed to striking-off the solicitors for dishonest acts. The three cases involved: • Sovani James – a former junior solicitor with McMillan Williams who, in order to give the impression […]

Everything You Need To Know About The New SRA Price Transparency Guidelines

  From December 2018, all regulated law firms will need to publish certain information regarding pricing and services.  The requirement falls under the SRA’s new Transparency Rules. Regulated legal practices will need to publish the prices they charge and what is included for this price across the following practice areas: For individual clients: • Residential conveyancing (Freehold sale or purchase, leasehold sale or purchase, mortgages and re-mortgages) • Probate (uncontested cases with all assets in the UK) • Motoring offences (summary only offences) […]

Summer Is Coming To An End – Beware Of Fraudulent Claims From Holiday Makers

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has issued a new warning notice regarding false holiday sickness claims. As summer comes to an end and holiday-makers return home, it is imperative Solicitors are vigilant when it comes to ensuring holiday sickness claims are genuine. In 2017, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) reported that holiday sickness claims had increased by 500 percent, a vast difference between the number of claims made by European tourists visiting the same hotels during identical periods. […]

SRA Announces Reforms

In June 2018, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) announced a series of reforms. These are designed to give legal professionals greater flexibility and improve access to justice. The reforms have been generated from the Looking to the Future programme, which has seen four major consultations and the involvement of over 35,000 professionals and members of the public. The rationale behind the reforms The reforms are aimed to remove pages and pages of complex, costly rules, and allow firms to concentrate […]

SRA Criticised After PI Solicitor Cleared Of Settling Claims Without Permission

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) criticised the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) over its handling of an investigation and subsequent prosecution of an “honest and credible” partner, Mr Vincent Gray, of the Greater Manchester practice, Dunne and Gray. The case highlights how the SRA can cause significant distress by taking years between investigating a matter and issuing a Rule 5 statement. The pressure on Mr Gray was further intensified when the authority applied for a costs order against him, despite the […]

UK Law Firms Still Challenged By Money Laundering Risks

Earlier this year, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) revealed it had implemented disciplinary measures against several law firms who had allegedly committed money laundering breaches. The authority stated it had carried out a review of 50 firms to test their compliance with tough new anti-money laundering regulations. Only around a third had carried out a mandatory risk assessment of their anti-money laundering procedures or were in the process of developing one. And in six of the practices, which ranged from […]

All Change – Get Ready For The SRA Handbook 2019 And New Account Rules

In June 2018, the Solicitors Regulation Authority published phase two of its Handbook reforms and a draft of the revised Handbook itself. The existing SRA Handbook is seen as complex and not particularly user-friendly – a fact acknowledged by the Authority itself in the statement. In addition, the existing Handbook needs to be updated to reflect the changes and challenges in the legal sector. There is not expected to be a great deal of amendments to the proposed changes to […]

How To Avoid And Challenge An SRA Intervention

An SRA intervention is the SRA’s nuclear weapon. If your firm is currently being investigated and you fear an intervention may be possible, you must take the situation seriously. An SRA intervention can destroy not only a practice, but the career of a solicitor. The SRA may give advance warning that an intervention is imminent, but they may not. The power to intervene is contained in schedule 1 of the Solicitors Act 1974. There are comparable powers relating to licensed […]

How Law Firms Can Protect The Mental Health Of Their Staff

Do many law graduates understand the true nature of working in a law firm? I know that when I was in the midst of my law exams, the pressure seemed unbearable at times. But nothing compared to meeting billing targets and client expectations. Like the medical profession, there is often an attitude within the ranks of senior partners that long hours and harsh workloads are part and parcel of the high remuneration and prestige associated with being a solicitor. After […]

Wingate & Anr v Solicitors Regulation Authority and Solicitors Regulation Authority v Malins – Recent Appeals Involving Dishonesty and Integrity

The level of honesty and integrity demanded by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is incredibly high. And the penalty for acting dishonestly or with a lack of integrity can end an otherwise promising legal career. In Bolton v The Law Society, the then Master of the Rolls, Sir Thomas Bingham, stated: “It is required of lawyers practising in this country that they should discharge their professional duties with integrity, probity and complete trustworthiness- That requirement applies as much to barristers […]

Money-laundering – Know How To Spot The Red Flags

In one telling scene from the opening episode of the BBC’s McMafia, Alex Godman, played by James McNorton, is asked how he might send funds to Mumbai “without leaving a trace”. His answer: by setting up an elaborate chain of companies in different tax havens. A “special purpose vehicle” in the Caymans would lend money to another similar vehicle in the Bahamas. And so on. This is classic money laundering. It may sound like fiction. However, it’s real. And unwitting […]

Can I Have My SRA Suspension Lifted?

It was recently reported in the Law Society Gazette that a solicitor who had worked overseas for over a decade was unable to convince the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) to lift a suspension which would allow him to return to practice law in England and Wales. The SDT stated that George Babalola was ‘crassly stupid’ in 2005 when he made excessive claims on legal aid cost and disbursements and then being dishonest with investigators. Mr Babalola returned to Nigeria after […]

Getting Your Law Firm Ready For GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in May 2018. Law firms that fail to prepare in time, so they can comply with the regulations on day one, risk facing the regulator’s wrath. Given that legal practices operate largely on trust, the fallout from a data breach could be disastrous. And the reputational damage would come on top of the potential fines of up to the greater of €20 million or 4% of a company’s global turnover. To […]

New Case Demonstrates Inconsistencies In SDT Decisions

In a recent Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) hearing, it was ruled that a solicitor who backdated a document in a “blind panic” could continue working in the legal profession. Although this is a welcome decision, given it has saved a young solicitor from being struck off and thereby ending a promising career, it highlights the inconsistency of SDT decisions. In other cases with similar facts, the accused has been struck of the Roll of Solicitors. The facts of the incident […]

Lack of Integrity and Dishonesty – Do They Mean The Same In Relation To Solicitors’ Regulations?

Three extraordinary decisions have been delivered by the High Court regarding the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal’s (SDT) interpretation of ‘lack of integrity’ and ‘dishonesty.’ The issue at the centre of the cases was: are integrity and dishonesty cut from the same cloth in relation to solicitors’ regulations or can they exist as separate offences? Newell-Austin v SRA [2017] EWHC 411 Deidre Newell-Austin appeared to have the legal world at her feet. Under 40, she ran a practice in London, employing two […]

Law firm Leigh Day cleared of Iraq case professional misconduct allegations

On 9th June, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) cleared London law firm Leigh Day and three of its solicitors of all 20 allegations of professional misconduct over Iraq war murder compensation claims. The trial, instigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) after a three-year investigation,lasted seven weeks and is believed to have cost in the region of £10million. The full judgment and reasoning is expected to be published in August. In summary, after a week of deliberations,the Tribunal found that […]

Regulatory settlement agreements

A regulatory settlement agreement(RSA) is used between the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and a regulated firm of solicitors or an individual solicitor to settle a disciplinary proceedings investigation in full.  Offering to conclude a disciplinary matter by entering an RSA is a regulatory decision made by the SRA, the terms of which are then accepted by the firm or individual solicitor. The SRA may be willing to enter into an RSA when the solicitor or firm is prepared to accept […]

Law firm Leigh Day cleared of Iraq case professional misconduct allegations

On 9thJune, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) cleared London law firm Leigh Day and three of its solicitors of all 20 allegations of professional misconduct over Iraq war murder compensation claims. The trial, instigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) after a three-year investigation,lasted seven weeks and is believed to have cost in the region of £10million. The full judgment and reasoning is expected to be published in August. In summary, after a week of deliberations,the Tribunal found that all […]

The Solicitors Regulation Authority v lawyers behaving badly

Within the space of a month, the High Court has issued conflicting decisions on whether a solicitor’s lack of integrity shows dishonesty. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (the SRA) is reported to be considering an appeal of the latest case,which would give the Court of Appeal a welcome opportunity to clarify the inter-relationship of dishonesty and integrity. The case of Malins v SRA [2017] EWHC 835 (Admin) involved a solicitor struck off in April 2016 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (the […]

Regulatory requirements of a client care policy

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Handbook (the Handbook) sets out all the SRA’s regulatory requirements on solicitors.  It is updated regularly, version 18 having been published on 1 November 2016.  The Handbook outlines the ethical standards expected of solicitors and the outcomes that the SRA requires solicitors to achieve in relation to client care. The Code The SRA Code of Conduct (the Code)is an outcomes-focused regulation.  It sets out positive outcomes which, when achieved, will benefit and protect clients.  The […]

Restoration to the Solicitors Roll – an interview with Jonathan Goodwin

Anyone wishing to apply for restoration to the Roll of Solicitors needs to carefully consider their chance of success, preferably with the help of someone who understands the challenges involved.  Jonathan Goodwin is such a person.  Having spent many years prosecuting solicitors who fell foul of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), he now defends professionals who are facing disciplinary action from professional bodies. Jonathan kindly sat down with us to talk about why a solicitor can be struck off from […]

How Professional Service Providers Can Protect Their Businesses From Money Laundering

Last month in an interview with The Guardian, the head of the National Crime Agency, David Little said UK authorities were struggling to prevent vast sums of dirty money entering the country.  “The amount of Russian money coming into the UK is a concern”, he said. “One, because of the volume. Two, we don’t know where it is coming from. We don’t have enough cooperation [from the Russian side] to establish that. They won’t tell us whether it comes from […]

Should the SRA be Police, Judge and Jury?

Currently, solicitors who face allegations made against them are subject to investigation and sanction by  the  Solicitors Regulation  Authority (“SRA”).   The SRA can rebuke  solicitors  and fine them up to £2,000.00. In more serious cases justifying a more severe sanction the case must be referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (“SDT”). The SDT is an independent body, and cases are heard by two solicitors and a lay person.  There is a right of appeal to the High Court. In a […]

Staying on the Right-Side of the Data Protection Act 1998

This month, a senior barrister was fined £1,000 when highly sensitive client information relating to family court proceedings was accidentally uploaded online, becoming easily accessible to the public via search engines. The Information Commissioner’s Office stated that six of the files contained ‘confidential and highly sensitive’ information relating to people who were involved in proceedings in the Court of Protection and the Family Court. Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO told the Law Society Gazette: “People put their […]

How Solicitors Can Survive An SRA Investigation

Few things cause the manager of a law firm more stress and anxiety than news that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is conducting an investigation into your practice. If you have an understanding of the process however, along with properly organised files & accounts and the aid of professional support in the event that an interview is requested, an SRA investigation can be dealt with in a calm, pragmatic manner. The SRA investigation procedure Naturally, little notice is given prior […]