The recent case of solicitor Jane Thirza Moir (JTM) serves as a timely reminder of the importance of staying up to date with regulatory changes. Although it only resulted in a relatively small fine, the case is relevant to anyone who did not fully engage with the SRA rule changes back in 2019.
JTM, a well-intentioned solicitor, found herself in the SRA’s crosshairs for an honest mistake. Unaware of a fundamental rule change in November 2019, JTM conducted conveyancing for friends and family without the required insurance, believing that her unpaid services exempted her from this requirement.
Key issues identified by the SRA
- Lack of Awareness: Crucially, JMT was not up-to-date with the 2019 change that removed the ability for solicitors to act without professional indemnity insurance when providing pro bono legal services to close acquaintances.
- Breach of Account Rules: She handled client monies in her conveyancing matters, a direct breach of the rules.
- Inappropriate Use of Firm Resources: Upon joining a regulated firm, JMT used the firm’s name for property transfers related to her personal clients. Although the final outcome omits this allegation, the regulator was clearly concerned by this behaviour.
SRA’s Decision and Penalty
Under a regulatory settlement agreement, avoiding the need for a full SDT hearing, the SRA fined JMT £768 and additionally imposed costs of £4,000.
“The Respondent was acting under the mistaken belief that she was entitled to act for family and friends without Pll provided she did not accept remuneration. Whilst this was previously the case, the position changed in November 2019 and she was not aware of the change coming into force….
Whilst she of course ought to have ensured that she was informed of the rule change, this appears to be a genuine case of oversight rather than a lack of honesty or integrity…
…The Respondent was also not accepting remuneration for work that she undertook. It cannot therefore be inferred that she was putting her own interests above the interests of her client…”
While acknowledging the unintentional nature of the breaches, the SRA emphasised the gravity of the misconduct and its potential impact on public confidence in the legal profession.
Lessons for Solicitors
- Stay Informed: Regularly update yourself on the latest SRA rules and guidance. Subscribe to SRA Updates and the COLP Insider newsletter.
- Train staff on latest updates: All firms should have provided training on the SRA Standards and Regulations 2019 – but it’s still not too late.
- Professional Indemnity Insurance is a Must: No matter the nature or remuneration of your legal services, ensure you are covered by appropriate professional indemnity insurance.
- Clarity in Client Representation: When transitioning to or working within a new firm, maintain clear boundaries regarding client representation. Do not leverage firm resources for personal client matters.
- Self-Reporting: If you find yourself in breach of regulations, proactive self-reporting can be a mitigating factor in regulatory decisions.
This case is an important lesson for all legal professionals. It underlines the significance of staying updated with regulatory changes, maintaining transparency in client dealings, and the critical role of professional indemnity insurance.