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Conduct outside of work and online – ensuring compliance with core principles
July 22, 2022

A recent Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) case, in which a solicitor was struck off and ordered to pay costs of just over £3,000 for a matter of misconduct committed in their private life, highlights the severe consequences of breaching SRA Principles. The solicitor in question was caught fare dodging, deliberately failing to pay rail fares worth approximately £650 for journeys undertaken over three months in 2017. The SDT concluded that intentionally failing to pay the fares was in breach of SRA core principles, specifically those which say you must act with honesty and integrity and “… behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services”.

We have recently seen several other cases highlighting the overarching high-level standards of ethical behaviour expected by solicitors, even in their private life, including how they conduct themselves online or over social media. – read our previous post on social media policies.

Of the substantiated cases brought in the SDT in 2020, 50% were for breaches of the SRA Principles (comprising the fundamental tenets of ethical behaviour that are expected of all authorised solicitors, firms, and employees). Penalties for the individual can range from a few hundred to several thousand pounds, along with a suspension. However, the reputational damage to the firm can be far greater and longer lasting.

 

What are your obligations under the core principles?

“The SRA Principles comprise the fundamental tenets of ethical behaviour that we expect all those that we regulate to uphold. This includes all individuals we authorise to provide legal services (solicitors, RELs and RFLs), as well as authorised firms and their managers and employees.”

SRA Principles – You must act:

  1. In a way that upholds the constitutional principle of the rule of law, and the proper administration of justice.
  2. In a way that upholds public trust and confidence in the solicitors’ profession and in legal services provided by authorised persons.
  3. With independence.
  4. With honesty.
  5. With integrity.
  6. In a way that encourages equality, diversity and inclusion.
  7. In the best interests of each client.

 

Ensuring all staff understand their obligations

Due to the level of regulation that applies to law firms, their management and supervision, setting out how a firm operates, including the conduct expectations of staff, in a series of policies, procedures, and documents is essential for all law firms. Additionally, training all your staff on your firm’s policies and procedures is vital. Furthermore, it should include your expectations on how personal behaviour once out of the office – including online – reflects on the firm, reminding them of their professional and regulatory obligations. Once training has been provided, be sure this is recorded as proof and that staff have easy access to policies and support from managers or the firm, especially for remote workers who are distanced from the traditional office environment.

 

Regulatory Guidance and Support from Industry Experts

If you would like guidance on how your firm should consider staff training and how to approach policies and procedures, including those for social media, or you simply wish to confirm your firm is achieving the required standard, at The Strategic Partner, we offer a range of solutions which include: –

Review – A review of the firm’s approach to regulation and compliance to include all regulatory requirements and AML procedures. The output of which provides the firm with a written gap analysis and solutions to remedy any issues.

Training – Whether you seek training on a 1-2-1 or group basis, The Strategic Partner has a range of training courses and mentoring programmes to suit any firm. We can also design any additional bespoke courses that you need. We have provided training to firms of all sizes, and our clients range from sole practitioners through to multi-office, multi-service firms with overseas offices.

Auditing – Procedural, staff, systems and files to ensure the procedures are up to the required standard and being implemented at case level with a report of the outcome.

Solutions – Implementation of robust solutions to ensure the firm achieves compliance and then maintains compliance through the provision of ongoing support and assistance: –

 

For more information on The Strategic Partner and to discuss how we may be able to assist in accelerating your risk management or compliance and regulation or simply to keep this up to date you can call us on 020 3911 9710 or email us info@thestrategicpartner.co.uk

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