Advising Solicitors and Law Firms

The dramatic increase in the regulatory burdens placed on solicitors and law firms has led to an upturn in their need to access external advice on their regulatory obligations and how best to respond when things go wrong. Lawyers no longer seek legal advice solely for the purpose of defending proceedings before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT); our clients now require advice on when to report a matter to the SRA, how to comply with the SRA Standards and Regulations, their business structures, insolvency, internal investigations and SRA investigations. 
 

How can we help?

GENERAL ADVICE ON REGULATORY AND ETHICAL ISSUES

It is sometimes the case that firms and individuals will need to make difficult choices in respect of their duties to their clients, the courts, and the wider public interest.  There may be no right answer.  We can offer independent authoritative advice addressing a range of issues you might be facing.  An example is whether a matter needs to reported to the SRA and the drafting of any associated notification.  It is not always clear as to whether a matter needs to be reported to the SRA and if it does how this should be done.  We can provide independent assistance to guide you through the process. Other issues we can assist you with include advising in respect of conflicts of interest; character and suitability requirements, issues relating to confidentiality and ethical decision making and its links to law firm culture.

 

CONDUCTING INDEPENDENT INTERNAL INVESTIGATIONS

In even the best run law firms, things can still go wrong. Responding promptly and effectively to these issues can minimise reputational and regulatory risks. We can help you by getting to the bottom of what went wrong, advising you on how to put it right and making recommendations so that lessons can be learnt and the same or similar issues do not arise in the future.  We can then prepare an investigation report which you can provide to the regulator if needed and we can also advise on your reporting obligations in respect of this.

 

SRA INVESTIGATIONS AND REPRESENTATION BEFORE THE SDT

Cases before the SDT are a small proportion of those that are subject to investigation by the SRA.  Each year the SRA receives around 12,000 reports and investigates about half of these.  However, you may need to take advice on how to respond to an SRA investigation at an early stage and may require advice through to the final resolution of the matter.  

Solicitors facing investigation by the SRA or defending themselves before an SDT panel understand how important the obtaining of insightful and timely legal advice can be. Every approach by the SRA has the potential to damage the reputation and prospects of those involved; all communication with the SRA during an investigation should therefore be the subject of careful thought and expert legal advice.  Furthermore, being the subject of an SRA investigation can be hugely stressful and brings with it an inherent risk to your reputation and perhaps your ability to practise.  We are in a unique position in the market in that we have extensive experience from  both sides of such investigations and can help you to achieve the best possible outcome as we know what is likely to work and what won’t.

Our team is top ranked in the legal directories for the provision of advice in respect of SRA investigations and any subsequent Tribunal proceedings and this is underpinned by us having acted in some of the most serious, complex and high profile solicitor disciplinary cases – investigating allegations relating to professional and personal lives - over the last 20 years.  Many of you may also require the assistance of specialist legal advisers in our employment and criminal teams; we provide that legal advice seamlessly, ensuring a coherent, consistent and efficient service. 

We are extremely well placed to advise you in any of the following areas:

  • Advising in respect of any Forensic Investigation undertaken by the SRA;
  • Providing advice and representation at any recorded interviews conducted by the SRA;
  • Formally responding to allegations set out against you in the SRA’s rule 2.3 notice;
  • Assisting with formal requests for disclosure;
  • Advising and assisting with alternative disposals to a hearing, such as a Regulatory Settlement Agreement or an Agreed Outcome;
  • Gathering evidence and preparing your case for any hearing;
  • Presenting your case at the SDT; or
  • Advising and assisting with any form of appeal that is needed.

You can read our SRA Investigations and SDT proceedings FAQs here.

 

ADVICE ON REGULATORY STRUCTURES AND AUTHORISATION AND PRACTICE REQUIREMENTS  

We advise firms on effective business structures for those that are seeking to establish in England and Wales for the first time or are considering changing their practice structure, perhaps to an alternative business structure (ABS) or to sit outside of SRA regulation.  This includes strategic advice on how best to structure the business through to any applications for authorisation. Within this area of work, we advise both established firms and start-ups and our expertise in relation to the complex and nuanced underpinning legal services framework enables us to come up with the best solution for you – there is no “one size fits all” approach.   We can also undertake regulatory due diligence for those seeking to acquire or invest in a law firm.  Just like any other business, those investing in a regulated legal services provider will need advice on the regulatory issues and any risks such an investment may present.

 

LAW FIRM RESTRUCTURING AND INSOLVENCY

Advice on the regulatory aspects of the restructuring and insolvency of law firms.  We have experience in relation to the administrations of Halliwells LLP, Dewy & LeBeouf, Manches LLP, Cobbetts LLP and Davenport Lyons.

 

BESPOKE TRAINING

We can offer you and, where relevant, your wider team, training tailored to suit your requirements. Please do get in touch if you think we can help in this way

 

Legal Services Regulation Specialists

We advise law firms, law firm partners and other employees on all matters touching upon their regulatory obligations and regulated status. We have unrivalled knowledge and expertise in the detailed and nuanced regulatory framework within which solicitors and law firms in England and Wales operate; our experience in acting for the majority of legal services regulators in England and Wales and our truly expert team, means that we occupy a unique place in this market.

The team is led by Iain Miller who has practised in this area for over 25 years (both prosecuting and defending) and is the General Editor of the leading textbook on legal services regulation, Cordery on Legal Services. Julie Norris, partner, advises solicitors and law firms on self-referral obligations and specialises in the provision of advice at the early stages of SRA investigations, including attendance at SRA interviews; providing advice designed to mitigate the reputational risks associated with disciplinary or regulatory disposals. Two members of the team have previously worked at the SRA: Jessica Clay, senior associate, who has practised in this area for a decade (both prosecuting and defending), most recently as Principal Legal Adviser in the SRA’s General Counsel team and involved in the drafting of the SRA Standards and Regulations; and Lucinda Soon, PSL, who worked at the SRA as the Knowledge Management Business Lead and is an experienced regulatory lawyer.

The firm has strength in depth. It benefits from a stable of very effective and hard-working lawyers and a leadership team who are not afraid to innovate"

Chambers UK, A Client's Guide to the UK Legal Profession,  2017

Latest blogs & news

Returning to the office? MeToo

As the legal profession returns to the office after many months ensconced in home offices, many will be looking forward to the increase in social interaction and in-person activities which will inevitably follow. Alongside this, legal services regulators appear to be gearing up for a commensurate rise in bullying and harassment complaints. With developments apace in this area among the UK regulators and further afield, what are we likely to see next from the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA)?

Harcus Sinclair v Your Lawyers - Another nail in the coffin of solicitors’ undertakings?

Every solicitor knows that an undertaking is serious stuff.   Arguably it is the greatest power available to a solicitor.  A promise, if broken, that will lead to immediate and serious consequences for the giver.  As such it can be relied upon to the ends of the earth.  The power of undertakings has meant that they sit at the heart of every property transaction, bridging the time gap between the sending of money and the receiving of title.  They are also used in other areas of commercial life and as part of litigation.  The “brand” of a solicitor’s undertaking is so powerful that little thought is given as to where their power comes from. 

Ethical imperatives

Julie Norris and Jessica Clay consider SRA entity regulation and the imperative to create an ethical (ergo, compliant) legal workplace.

All well and good

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of good mental health and resilience both in and out of the office. Bronwen Still and Lucinda Soon consider your obligations

More clarity needed from the SRA on boundaries concerning sexual misconduct and harassment in law firms

The solicitors’ watchdog is right to take charge of misconduct cases but it needs firmer guidance to succeed 

Beckwith v SRA – are there implications for the regulation of professional accountants who face sexual misconduct allegations?

In our fourth blog in our series on Beckwith v Solicitors Regulation Authority [2020] EWHC 3231 (Admin), we turn our attention to consider what impact, if any, this landmark decision might have on the regulation of professional accountants. While the case turned on some very specific features relating to the regulation of solicitors as contained in the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) Principles and Code of conduct, some parts of the judgment may have more general application.

Post-Beckwith – where to now for sexual misconduct cases?

In the two years preceding Ryan Beckwith’s appeal to the High Court, the SRA pursued a handful of other sexual misconduct cases before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (Tribunal). These cases are varied and fact-specific and include sexual misconduct in and relating to the workplace and conduct outside of work.

Where have we reached on costs in proceedings before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal post Beckwith?

Regulatory investigations across all sectors are increasing in complexity, with a corresponding increase in the size of the cost applications made by regulators upon successful prosecution. For solicitors facing investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (‘SRA’), the costs associated with prosecutions before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (‘SDT’) have made the headlines recently for their size. In Beckwith, for example, the Divisional Court referred to the SRA’s costs of c.£340,000 as “alarming.

The SRA’s updated NDA warning notice introduces welcome clarity

On 12 March 2018 the SRA published its warning notice on the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). This was in the wake of the widespread publicity at the time given to NDAs which had been considered too draconian in reach and effect.

The use of artificial intelligence: interesting technological developments in the legal and accountancy sectors

In this second blog in our technology and innovation series, we look at some recent developments in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the legal and accountancy sectors.

Technology in the accountancy and legal sectors – what are the regulators doing? The long read…

In the first of our Tech blog series, we take a look at how regulators in the accountancy and legal sectors are supporting technological innovation in their respective professional sectors, and how they themselves might adapt their regulatory approach in the new era of digital technology.

The SRA Standards and Regulations – a year on

It has been a year since the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) launched its Standards and Regulations (StaRs) and even longer since the revised Enforcement Strategy was rolled out.  This time last year, we produced a series of blogs relating to launch of the StaRs and provided our views on what we thought you needed to know.

FAQs : The SRA's early character and suitability assessment

The route to obtaining a prestigious job in the legal profession is hard enough without the worry of whether past misdemeanours will prevent you from being admitted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) as a solicitor. Convictions or cautions in early life (for even relatively minor offences), student disciplinary findings, civil debts and the like, are all capable of preventing prospective solicitors seeking admission to the roll becoming qualified as a solicitor. Since May 2018, prospective solicitors have had the ability to seek an early character and suitability assessment under the Authorisation of Individuals Regulations,[1] enabling them to understand if something they did in the past could be a bar to entry to the profession.  

Are you getting complacent with compliance?

After months of many solicitors working from home, it's easy to get comfortable. But with complacency comes the risk of non-compliance with your regulatory obligations. Jessica Clay provides a refresher on your duties, the risks involved in remote working, and how you can stay compliant.

Sexual misconduct allegations in law firms are ever-present – following due process is key

As another case involving allegations of sexual misconduct relating to a senior partner of a law firm has been concluded before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal just this week, resulting in the imposition of a £10,000 fine being confirmed on 22 July 2020, it is perhaps safe to say that, for now, there is no sign that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has lost its appetite to investigate and act on reports of this nature that it receives. 

“Regulation beyond the echo chambers”: who is listening?

Professor Stephen Mayson’s ‘Reforming Legal Services: Regulation beyond the echo chambers’ report has now been submitted to the Lord Chancellor as the final product of a two-year independent review into the regulation of legal services in England and Wales.  

Promoting a good working culture in law firms - Part 3: The importance of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives in promoting a good working culture

Julie Norris and Jessica Clay spoke at the end of January 2020 at the ARK risk and compliance conference on the topic of promoting a good working culture in law firms.  This is the final blog in a series of three blogs. It focuses on the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives in promoting a good working culture

Promoting a good working culture in law firms - Part 2: The importance of wellbeing in the workplace

Julie Norris and Jessica Clay spoke at the end of January 2020 at the ARK risk and compliance conference on the topic of promoting a good working culture in law firms.  This blog is the second in a series of three and focuses on the importance of wellbeing in the workplace.

COVID-19: If you get a fixed penalty notice for non-compliance with lockdown measures – do you have to tell the Solicitors Regulation Authority?

With BBC reports that there have been 178,000 incidents of anti-social behaviour in the last four weeks across England and Wales alone, if a solicitor receives a fixed penalty notice for a non-essential journey away from home - do they have to inform the SRA?

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