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Professional discipline update June 2021

Leigh Day Regulatory & Disciplinary team's quarterly update on professional discipline.

I hope this update finds you safe and well as we creep ever closer to the lifting of all lockdown limitations and, I sincerely hope, a life a little (but not too much!) more like the “old normal”.

For many, the second quarter of 2021 marked a year of working from home. Professionals up and down the country have adapted admirably and there has been no shortage of guidance about how best to navigate these challenging times. Some of the most interesting, inspiring and important has been that around how to best support your junior talent as we transition to yet further adjusted working practices – you can read more about this and its importance both for individuals and legal practices below.

I hope you find the update that follows informative and that you find time for a pleasant summer holiday this summer, whether at home or possibly even abroad.

Gideon Habel

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Nurturing your junior talent

This quarter, The Law Society provided an updated Practice Note on Supervision and accompanying guidance to guide members considering their future working arrangements, on how to ensure junior staff are best supported. Working life for trainees (and, indeed, other junior members of staff) has been challenging over the last 15 months, with isolation and the lack of “chance encounter” supervision keenly felt. Firms owe duties (including ethical duties) to support their junior talent, so this has been a timely intervention.

The guidance reminds members that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has advised that its regulations require that trainees are “appropriately supervised”. What amounts to appropriate supervision will vary according to the circumstances and the SRA has said that its aim is to be a flexible as possible. What is clear is the value of the mantra that if supervisors do their best by trainees, they maximise the prospects of trainees doing their best for them and the firm.

Advocating for junior practitioners

Whilst on the topic of junior practitioners, March saw the team achieve a successful outcome for a junior solicitor we act for, Claire Matthews.

Claire faced an SRA investigation and Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) prosecution after she mistakenly left a locked suitcase of confidential client documents on a train. Claire self-represented in the proceedings as she could not afford a SRA defence solicitor. In March 2020, the SDT struck her off, upholding the SRA dishonesty allegations around statements she made to colleagues about the suitcase’s whereabouts.

In April 2020, Claire instructed Leigh Day to help her to appeal. A core ground of appeal was that, despite Claire raising ill-health as relevant to the events, neither the SRA nor the SDT took steps to investigate that, notwithstanding she was unrepresented.

In March 2021, the Divisional Court approved a consent order allowing Claire’s appeal, remitting the case to the SDT. The agreement was reached after we obtained expert evidence addressing Claire's health at the time of the events and the SDT proceedings. The case underscores the importance of having available resources (for example financial or insurance) and help with SRA investigations.

Gideon has written a longer piece about the inequities and inequalities in the regulatory process and another article in The Times about the need for consistent outcomes, to achieve greater fairness and regulatory accountability. Claire’s case was also covered in the legal press by the Law Society Gazette and Legal Futures.

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The Quest for Regulatory Equality

In our last update, we wrote about the publication of the SRA’s long-awaited data on the diversity characteristics of lawyers in its disciplinary proceedings. We have since hosted the second event in our Quest for Regulatory Equality series.

The speakers analysed the data, findings and observations set out in the SRA’s reports, “Upholding Professional Standards” and “Upholding Professional Standards – Diversity Monitoring, Supporting Report”. We have distilled the key recommendations from the events into a white paper, which we look forward to sharing with you, the regulators and the wider legal community. We hope the SRA (and the Legal Services Board) will consider the recommendations and factor them into their strategy to tackle the issue.

If you missed the second event, you can watch a recording

 

You can also read, watch and listen to content we have produced for the series, and read some commentary about the event in Legal Futures.

Insights since our last update

The team has written on some other key issues in the regulatory and disciplinary field, which you can read by clicking on the headings below:

You can also listen to a podcast Gideon recorded with solicitor and legal author Mena Ruparel, about ethics in practice.

We can help

Whatever your professional discipline or particular area of expertise, if you need expert guidance on regulatory compliance or regulatory investigation/regulatory prosecution, speak to one of our team. Email: rdteam@leighday.co.uk or call 020 3780 0406.

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You can find out more about the team and how we can help you on our website, or via our brochure and "2 minutes" video. You can also follow the team on LinkedIn and Twitter, to receive our updates.