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Self-reporting potential misconduct

When faced with a potential breach of industry standards it can be difficult to know when you need to self-report. 

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)  sets the principles and code of conduct all law firms and solicitors in England and Wales must abide by. It also regulates certain non-lawyers (either managers or employees of firms it regulates) and other types of lawyer, such as registered foreign lawyers (RFLs) and registered European lawyers 

You have a duty to report facts or matters you reasonably believe are capable of amounting to serious breaches of the principles and code of conduct, even if it is you or your firm who has potentially breached the SRA’s rules.  

You can choose either to inform your company’s compliance officer for legal practice or financial administration – on the understanding that they will report matters on to the SRA – or you can go directly to the SRA. 

Self-reporting can start an investigation and lead to sanctions against individuals or businesses. Self-reporting can, however, result in in more lenient sanctions, due to your co-operation.

Read about our work persuading the SRA not to take action against a self-reporting client here.

Ready to talk? Contact our team to discuss whether you need to self-report or to start the process of self-reporting. Call 020 3780 0406 or

 

Changes to reporting requirements

Effective from 25 November 2019, the SRA’s Standards and Regulations replaced the SRA handbook. This changed the landscape on reporting potential misconduct. The threshold for reporting any suspected breach of the SRA’s principles and code of conduct is now much lower.

Previously, any SRA regulated professionals were only obliged to report serious breaches when satisfied serious misconduct had taken place. Both reporting and self-reporting required gathering evidence and investigating the circumstances, with the decision of whether to report or self-report to the SRA made by the individual or firm once they had investigated matters themselves. 

Under these changes, all it requires for you to report or self-report is that there are: 
It means you do not have to gather evidence in advance to report a breach – the SRA will do so as part of its investigation. This is to help make reporting more of an objective – rather than subjective – judgement. 

How else have the SRA Standards and Regulations changed?

Overall, the SRA has made its Standards and Regulations shorter and less prescriptive. This means legal professionals and firms now have to use greater professional and ethical judgement to ensure compliance. 
The SRA Principles have reduced from ten to seven. These are that all lawyers and law firms act:
  1. In a way that upholds the constitutional principle of the rule of law, and the proper administration of justice.
  2. In a way that upholds public trust and confidence in the solicitors' profession and in legal services provided by authorised persons.
  3. With independence.
  4. With honesty.
  5. With integrity.
  6. In a way that encourages equality, diversity and inclusion.
  7. In the best interests of each client.
There are also now two Codes of Conduct. One is for individuals, the other is for law firms.

When to report or self-report

Knowing when to self-report isn’t an exact science. You should make a report promptly but doing so prematurely, late or not at all can significantly impact your prospects of avoiding investigation or enforcement action and of minimising any potential sanction. It may potentially put you and/or your company firmly on the SRA’s radar as one to keep under review.

Why self-report?

As a law firm or solicitor, self-reporting properly and at the right time can be an effective way to demonstrate good governance. This can reduce the risk or severity of any investigative or enforcement action by the SRA.

Leaving it too late or avoiding reporting can lead to the issue coming to light by some other means – potentially resulting in more severe sanctions. The type of sanctions the SRA itself can enforce will depend on the breach. These can include:
  • A rebuke, reprimand or severe reprimand
  • Fines
Should the SRA consider its sanctions not severe enough, it can refer the case to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, which has far wider sanctioning powers, including the power to strike off, to place conditions on you practicing certificate and impose unlimited fines.  

If you believe you have identified an issue and are considering self-reporting to the SRA, we can help you decide the appropriate course of action. Where necessary, we will guide you through the process to ensure you maximise your chances of achieving the best possible outcome.

Client story 
Assisting a solicitor to self-report and persuading the SRA to take no action
We were instructed by a solicitor whose former firm was considering reporting him to the SRA over concerns that he had sent deliberately misleading emails to a Court and litigation opponent years earlier. We advised on and prepared correspondence that enabled him to obtain the matter files and documents he needed to refresh his memory and prepare his explanations to the firm. We also advised him about his reporting obligations to the SRA, helped him to prepare the self-report and advised on potential outcomes. The comprehensive and carefully reasoned report we helped him write set out that he had not intended to mislead; the SRA decided not to take disciplinary action against him.
 
On conclusion of our work, our client told us:
 
“I want to thank you for your work and understanding of my situation.  At the time I approached you, it was very distressing and it was really helpful to talk through and be fully advised on the regulatory and tactical matters.  You clearly gave careful and thoughtful consideration to those issues, and I am sure all of that contributed to making this a smooth as could be hoped for. I felt in very good hands throughout.
 
But that is not all you contributed.  As well as an understanding of law and practice, so much of my case involved telling a personal story, and that involves being a good listener.   I really do think that is such an important skill as a solicitor – being able to listen and knowing what questions to ask.  Again, in that aspect of the case, I really relied on you to have understood my situation at the time of the events in question, and where to ask questions, and that was not easy, given the lapse of time since those events. In particular, I felt you understood me and the firm that I worked for, and that was really important.”

Why choose Leigh Day?

Our Leigh Day team has years of experience, including relating to reporting and self-reporting to the SRA. 
"You clearly gave careful and thoughtful consideration to those issues, and I am sure all of that contributed to making this a smooth as could be hoped for. I felt in very good hands throughout.”
We understand what you and your firm may be going through, as it’s something our firm has experienced too. Speak to one of our team about your concerns and we can advise you on the best steps to take and guide you through the reporting process, ensuring the best possible results for you and your firm.  
“I want to thank you for your work and understanding of my situation.  At the time I approached you, it was very distressing and it was really helpful to talk through and be fully advised on the regulatory and tactical matters."  
For further information, help and advice about reporting solicitors and self-reporting, head over to our Regulatory and Disciplinary home page.

Alternatively, contact our expert regulatory and disciplinary team at Leigh Day today. Talk to one of our solicitors about self-reporting or how to report solicitors from another law firm. Call 020 3780 0406 or

 

Further insights

We are continually looking to provide insights into our specialist field, for the benefit of our clients and the wider profession. You can read some of our published articles and blogs about reporting and self-reporting requirements here:

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