In its latest Risk Outlook, the SRA is keen for solicitors to recognise that many vulnerable people receive a lower quality service than should be expected.
Solicitors must be able to recognise vulnerabilities – from disabilities, to lack of capacity, literacy and language barriers, under duress and so on. Any one of these personal characteristics could make it harder for the client to complain about the service, or even understand when a service has been poorly delivered.
Add to this the fact that people turn to lawyers at times of great stress in their lives, and you have all the ingredients for exacerbating the underlying vulnerability. The loss of a loved one, breakdown of a marriage or a criminal prosecution is likely to affect most people’s capacity for reason and rational thinking.
What is worse, very often poor legal advice only becomes apparent after the event (for example, a poorly drafted will) and the opportunity for redress may be long gone.
As a minimum, a solicitor must ask themselves at the beginning of every matter: is this client vulnerable in any way? If so, how does that affect my handling of the case?
We recommend that all ‘vulnerable’ files should be recognised by the risk management system, and perhaps by a formal policy or procedure. Where a client is identified as vulnerable, the file should be closely supervised to ensure that:
– the fee earner has taken enough time with the client to ensure that they have understood the necessary paperwork, and tailors their communication where necessary
– the client has capacity to give instructions
– the client fully comprehends the advice, documents, and costs of the matter
– the fee earner gives the client all of the necessary regulatory information
– the client knows how to complain
The COLP should ensure that these initial and ongoing risk assessments are taking place i.e. that the system is working.
This is all part of ensuring that the brand of solicitor is associated with high quality.