A couple of recent posts on the r/uklaw forum invited lawyers to share their horror stories of mistakes they had made early in their careers.
It made me think back to my early days of practice and how many clangers I made – or came close to – on a daily basis.
There are probably lessons to be learned from these insights:
- we all make mistakes;
- pressure and inexperience make them more likely;
- the importance of proper supervision, and not assuming knowledge;
- most mistakes can be rectified; and
- the worst thing you can do is try to cover up the mistake.
The last one is the most important – it can escalate from an oops-moment into a strike off.
For now, just relish the fact that these things didn’t happen to you.
Our October webinar (SRA sexual misconduct guidance and the regulation of solicitors’ private lives – recording link below) proved to be very popular. We were very fortunate to be joined by Geoffrey Williams KC, a leading authority on solicitors disciplinary matters.
After a brief discussion about what the new SRA sexual misconduct guidance actually looks like (you can read more on this in our recent blog post below), we took a deep dive into how this guidance impacts the profession as a whole.
Two developments in the field of solicitors disciplinary were identified as being very significant to the discussion: firstly, that the SRA fining powers have been raised to £25,000, and secondly, fewer solicitors are finding themselves in front of a tribunal.
In Mr Williams’ view, the SRA have become the “prosecutor, judge and jury” of the profession. Further, the SRA places sexual misconduct allegations into a higher category of seriousness than most other behaviours.
On 1 September the SRA issued sexual misconduct guidance, an important piece of guidance for lawyers and those working in regulated firms. It doesn’t paint the legal profession in a good light, but unfortunately it was necessary.
The guidance sets out the SRA’s expectations for individuals and the firms that it regulates, going so far as to give examples of behaviour that is – and is not – likely to become a regulatory issue. Its aim is to give the profession a certain level of certainty in where ‘the line’ is.
This is undoubtedly a difficult area for a regulator. It needs to strike a balance between setting the boundaries of inappropriate sexual conduct, and not becoming judgmental or preachy.
One of the issues that the SRA has to grapple with is when a solicitor’s behaviour in their private life (if there is such a thing) becomes a regulatory issue.
The context of this is a string of high profile disciplinary cases involving allegations of sexual misconduct, often involving senior and junior colleagues. There have been suggestions that legal regulators and law firms have a history of turning a blind eye to – and actively covering up – serious sexual misconduct. But times have changed, and in a post #MeToo world, this is simply not acceptable.
More recently, mental health and workplace wellbeing have become a core concern of the SRA. Failing to protect and support colleagues is not an option for law firms and their management teams.
In this article, we discuss:
- Why the sexual misconduct guidance is necessary
- How Beckwith threw a spanner in the regulatory works
- What the new SRA sexual misconduct guidance says
- What this means for firms and individuals
- Wider implications for the regulation of solicitors’ private lives
News and Guidance
- Anti Money Laundering annual report 2021-22 – The SRA continues to step up its AML visits and enforcement processes. As SRA Chair, Anna Bradley, ominously warns firms caught by the Money Laundering Regulations, “now is the time to put your house in order.”
Law Society – New and updated practice notes (may require login)
- News – Lubna Shuja makes history as she becomes first Asian Law Society president
- News – Bar strike: what you need to know
- Feature – Badge of dishonour: parking illegally can get you more than a ticket
- Q&A – The other side won’t explain how the costs my client must pay are calculated. What can I do?
- Council for Licensed Conveyancers – Advisory Note: Preparing for changes in the economy – CLC warns firms to ‘stress test’ business models in anticipation of a significant downturn in conveyancing instructions.
- FATF – High-Risk Jurisdictions subject to a Call for Action – Myanmar added to ‘black list’ of high risk jurisdictions.
Sexual Misconduct and the Regulation of Solicitors’ Private Lives
The recording from this month’s webinar is available here (Passcode v&%k$u7V).
Huge thanks to Geoffrey Williams KC for speaking with us about this important topic.
Invitations to November’s free webinar on the Register of Overseas Entities will be sent out shortly. There’s an important impending deadline for overseas owners of UK property.
As always, clients will get first refusal with remaining webinar spaces open to newsletter subscribers.
SRA and SDT disciplinary decisions
- Pinkney Grunwells Lawyers LLP – law firm fined £2,000 for long term AML compliance failures.
- Anjum Shahzad – sole Director of Shahzad’s Law fined £1,200 for AML compliance failures.
- Lewis Green – former employee of law firm ‘struck off’ (Section 43 Order) following theft from his employer.
- Virinder Kumar Ghaiwal – solicitor with no private client experience fined £6,000 for certifying two Lasting Powers of Attorney ‘as a favour’, without conducting the necessary checks on the client’s circumstances and capacity.
- Ian McLachlan – solicitor suspended for a year, with an agreement to remove himself from the roll, after ‘manifest incompetence’ in dealing with his elderly client’s affairs. The circumstances bore the hallmarks of undue influence and exploitation.
- Thomas Hagyard – former trainee solicitor struck off (Section 43 Order) following sexual assault conviction.
- Gary Jonathan Glover – complaints manager fined £4,000 for failing to deal with complaints adequately.
- Brian Sarney – struck off for propping up his firm with over £200,000 improper client account withdrawals.
- Jayesh Sasdev – struck off for unfairly taking advantage of a vulnerable client.