Industry News

SRA Board members guilty of professional misconduct

09 September 2011

The SRA Code of Conduct 2011 requires all firms to display the exact words ‘authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority’ on their websites (see Outcome 8.5). This is a mandatory outcome not an indicative behaviour; therefore failure to achieve this outcome by 6th October 2011 is misconduct.

The SRA’s Board sets the SRA’s strategy. The Board consists of both solicitor and lay members. The SRA’s total expenditure on the Board (including adjudicator costs and ‘other expenses’) was £1.2m in the financial year ended 2010 (last figures available). It is therefore highly likely that all Board members are generously remunerated for their efforts.

There are nine solicitor members of the Board, in direct contravention of the Legal Services Board’s Internal Governance Rules 2009 (made under section 30(1) of the Legal Services Act 2007) which require that ‘a majority of members of the regulatory board are lay persons’. So it is an unlawfully constituted Board at present.

Of the nine solicitor members, three no longer appear to be practising, and one is in-house, leaving five in private practice. Of the five in private practice, one is a recognised sole practitioner, two are consultants to authorised bodies and two are managers of authorised bodies. The five law firms concerned and their corresponding Board members are:

  • Herbert Smith LLP: Charles Plant (Chair)
  • Norton Rose LLP: Martin Coleman
  • Mark Humphries Ltd: Mark Humphries
  • Switalskis LLP: Lorrette Law
  • SNR Denton UK LLP: Cindy Leslie

These are not just random facts, we are going somewhere with this…

At the time of writing (close of business on the 7th October) the websites of Switalskis LLP and Norton Rose LLP are displaying the words ‘authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority’ in accordance with Outcome 8.5 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011. The websites of the other three firms are not. Or to put it another way, sixty percent of members of the SRA Board in private practice have not managed to ensure that their firm is complying with the new rules of professional conduct. This will be particularly embarrassing for Charles Plant, the Chair of the Board, who very publicly reminded all solicitors to ensure the new wording was added to their websites in a recent article appearing in the Law Society Gazette.

The solicitors that set the strategy of the SRA should ensure that their own law firms comply with the rules of the SRA. If they fail to do so, they should accept publicly that they have embarrassed the SRA and they should resign their Board positions. If their failure to ensure that their law firms comply with the rules amounts to misconduct, then they should also admit their culpability and be subject to the same disciplinary action that would be taken against any other solicitor who fails to achieve a mandatory outcome, but who does not enjoy a similar position of power and influence.

We have to admit that this is a pretty mean spirited blog. Calling for three individuals, all of the highest professional standing and character, to resign and be disciplined over a minor technical infraction of a rather silly and pointless rule, is a shabby and a childish thing to do. Failing to set the insignificant regulatory breaches of these three people in the context of their long records of decency, service and integrity would show a lack of any sense of professional ethics, justice or proportionality. Damaging the reputations, the finances and the clean conduct records of good people should never be undertaken lightly. The writers genuinely hope that this blog causes no harm to any of the individuals concerned (though if they are a little embarrassed we can live with that!).

Why publish this then?

Because to our constant annoyance and bewilderment the SRA repeatedly causes harm to decent people who have breached one of its trivial and bureaucratic rules (or principles or outcomes or whatever – it’s all the same if you breach them). We are not talking here about unethical solicitors who steal client money or who show a blatant disregard for the wellbeing of their clients; we all want to see the back of them. We are talking about hard-working, long-serving conscientious lawyers who struggle to cope with an ever expanding and constantly changing set of regulations.

The people we refer to in this blog – Charles Plant, Mark Humphries and Cindy Leslie – have direct power over the strategy of the SRA. We don’t really want them to resign, we want them to use that power, to ensure that the SRA takes a measured and a lenient approach with honest lawyers, who like them, occasionally slip up and fail to keep on top of the rules.

The SRA’s new mandatory principles are capable of extremely wide construction. The SRA could easily use the principles in an oppressive manner. We hope that by demonstrating that even the most compliance-aware lawyers are capable of slipping up, we may influence the SRA to use its regulatory and investigatory powers more wisely than has often been the case in the past. We write in hope rather than in expectation.

THESE ARE THE PRIVATE VIEWS OF THE WRITERS AND NOT NECESSARILY THOSE OF LBS LEGAL.

Ian Braithwaite
Client Relationship Manager

T: 0845 056 3949
M: 0743 727 4046
E: ian.braithwaite@lbslegal.co.uk

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