We held the first of our GDPR seminars in Cardiff on Monday 19th February.
It became clear to us pretty quickly that there is still a lot of uncertainty and concern in the profession. Do let us know if you would like us to deliver the session locally to your firm.
The message from our seminar was this: take it seriously, but don’t panic. GDPR was not designed with lawyers in mind. It is unlikely that solicitors will be high on the list of targets for the ICO. That does not mean you should do nothing. You should take steps now to be as compliant with the law as possible, and keep up to speed with any future guidance.
The ICO’s “12 steps to take now” document is a very good starting point (in fact, we used this for our own internal GDPR planning programme).
As with most regulatory issues, if you can prove that you have taken steps to try to comply, that will go a long way towards protecting you from criticism should the worst happen. Sanction are usually harshest for those who are unable or unwilling to engage with the requirements.
On the back of this we are working on a blog on the fundamental issue of the lawful basis for processing of data. Under GDPR you must choose which lawful basis you have chosen (and communicate it in your Privacy Statement), so this will be a core part of your GDPR planning.
In this issue, we also bring you the latest news and of course the regular round up of disciplinary decisions.
Jon and the team
SRA and Law Society split gets closer
The Legal Services Board (LSB) has been consulting on reviewing its Internal Governance Rules. On the 15th February the SRA published its reply.
As things stand the Legal Services Act 2007 names the Law Society and the Bar Council (among others) as the approved front-line regulators. They delegate their regulatory functions to the SRA and the BSB respectively.
One of the main reasons for this consultation was to look at the independence of the regulator from the representative body, a key recommendation of the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) 2016 report.
The SRA has long argued that full independence from the Law Society is necessary, and it is therefore not surprising that the SRA used the opportunity to restate its case. Quote’s from the SRA’s response to the LSB consultation:
- ‘Our independence is key to our ability, and that of solicitors, to secure public confidence’
- ‘Research shows that the public will place more trust in solicitors if their regulation is independent. That trust has never been more important.’
Why it matters
The SRA has argued that the Law Society should have ‘no residual involvement in or oversight’ of regulatory functions. The Law Society’s responses was that it had to retain the ‘oversight role’ , but one rather suspects that the Law Society’s motivation here is not entirely disconnected with retaining the funds received from the profession’s practising fees.
That aside, has the SRA yet proven that it is ready to go it entirely alone? Perhaps the status quo provides valuable balance to a regulator that has, time and time again, demonstrated a knack for developing poorly thought-out and implemented policy, and an insatiable appetite for competition-at-all-costs.
This is not sexy stuff, but an issue that could have very significant implications for the future direction of the profession.
SME’s still not using solicitors
On Valentine’s day, the LSB published its most recent research looking at the legal needs of SME’s. The research follows on from similar work that took place in 2013 and 2015. It had over 10,000 responses from owners and managers of small businesses.
The findings include that engagement with solicitors is limited, with most small businesses deciding to handle it alone (50%) or use an non-legal advisor (24%). Views on cost effectiveness of lawyers had not improved, with just 11% of those responding agreeing that lawyers provided a ‘cost effective means of resolve legal issues‘.
Dr Helen Phillips, interim chair of the LSB commented that‘There still remains a perception of legal services as expensive – whether or not that perception is accurate’.
Why it matters
Whilst it does feel a bit like the same old research again, with regulators pumping out reports supporting policies they already have in place, perhaps as a profession there is an element of having to take it on the chin.
There are clear strategic choices that law firms have to make. Do we look to improve efficiency so that we can compete on price? Or do we rely upon our expertise and professionalism – backed up by our regulation, insurance and qualifications? Is this more of a marketing issue, rather than price – are there ways that we can put ourselves in a prospective client’s mind, so that we are the first port of call? Do we need to better justify our pricing based on value delivered?
You may be aware that the SRA last month applied to the LSB for formal approval for the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (or “skewy”), to be introduced from 2020. The LSB originally had 28 days to approve or reject the SRA’s plans, but was unable to make a decision within that period and now has an extension until the 9th March. The LSB said that the SRA needed more time to respond to questions raised by the super regulator.
Why it matters
The SQE represents a major overhaul of the qualification of solicitors, which needs to be carefully considered, and the LSB seems to be doing this at least. Many have commented that the 2020 timeline is ambitious and that such fundamental changes to the routes to qualification should be tested and implemented over a much longer period. Others have said that the SRA is asking the LSB to take a stab in the dark, as many elements of the SQE seem to be a work in progress. By the 9th March we should know more so watch this space…
Law Society news releases
- Treatment of pooled client accounts under the Money Laundering Regulations 2017
- National Cyber Security Centre releases email phishing attacks guidance
- MOJ to increase small claims limited for motoring claims in April 2019 – read our response
- Solicitor Mamoon Rashid Chaudhary, was struck off the roll in an agreed outcome with the SRA. Mr Chaudhary, who had been qualified for some 18 years, admitted to dishonestly failing to declare his interest in a property and providing an untrue account of what happened to proceeds of a property sale on his divorce financial statement.
- John Walker was struck off the roll in an agreed outcome. He admitted to causing a client to die intestate without leaving provision for her two sons. He also admitted to providing misleading statements to the family of the deceased, fabricating the grant of probate and misleading his employer.
- Stewart Stocker was struck off the roll by the SDT for signing a loan facility letter and legal mortgage over a property confirming he witnessed his client signing it in his presence when this was not true, and also confirming that he had witnessed the signature to others.
- Angela Hudson was suspended from practice for 18 months for repeatedly contacting a client by mobile phone whilst he was in prison.
- Peter Naylor was suspended from practice for a period of 2 years, that period in itself suspended for 2 years, for misleading a client about the progress of an FCA application.