Lawyer Disciplinary Processes: An Empirical Study of Solicitors’ Misconduct Cases in England and Wales in 2015

Abstract

The Legal Services Act 2007 effected major changes in the disciplinary system for solicitors in England Wales. Both the practice regulator, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, and a disciplinary body, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, were reconstituted as independent bodies and given new powers. Our concern is the impact of the Act on the disciplinary system for solicitors. Examination of this issue involves consideration of changes to regulatory institutions and the mechanics of practice regulation. Drawing on Foucault’s notion of governmentality, empirical evidence drawn from disciplinary cases handled by the SDT and the SRA in 2015 is used to explore potentially different conceptions of discipline informing the work of the regulatory institutions. The conclusion considers the implications of our findings for the future of the professional disciplinary system.

Citation:

Boon, Andrew and Whyte, Avis, Lawyer Disciplinary Processes: An Empirical Study of Solicitors’ Misconduct Cases in England and Wales in 2015 (January 31, 2019). (2019) 39:3 Legal Studies. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3418327

post

Four steps legal regulators can take to embrace their data

Data has always been a foundational part of the practice of law. However, the convenience, accessibility, and speed of digital mediums is transforming the discipline from within. Law firms are stepping up the plate leveraging their internal data, as well as industry data to make their practice and delivery of services more efficient and effective. E-Discovery, case predictive technologies and even fledgling artificial intelligence programmes are proliferating across top firms globally. Small and large firms alike are engaging with varying degrees of software to manage information and leverage its value.

It is time legal regulators attempt to match pace. This month ICLR.net is focusing on how legal regulators can start to think about data’s role in improving their regulatory responsibilities. We have identified four preliminary steps to help your institution to start thinking about leveraging data.

1. Start small and close to home: Identify your data sources

Identify consistent incoming sources of data. This may be lawyer registrations, renewals and fees. This “low hanging fruit” often serves as the fundamental data base, which can yield insights such as lawyer demographics and disciplinary patterns.

2. Clean and organise your data

Unwieldy spreadsheets no longer make the grade. Setting your organisation up for success means treating your data properly and preparing it for utilisation. Categorising and cleaning your data in a consistent manner will make things easier down the road. Data should be stored in a clear and structured format, which is both secure and shareable with appropriate access permissions.

3. Collaborate with those who know data

Some institutions may want to call the professionals in from day one. Smaller organisations may be able to tackle the first two steps on their own, but to begin to leverage analytics really requires a professional touch for the best results. You should be looking for a company specialises in data structures and analytics. The legal tech sector is rich with software providers offering data management products, but working with a professional in selecting the best fit for your organisation’s data or building a unique system is what will ensure success. It is key to work with someone with the skills as well as background knowledge and insights into the legal profession and industry.

4. Fostering a data-driven culture

Legal information and data powerhouse Thomson Reuters puts it best:

“Building a data-driven legal practice is not something you assign to a task force, department, or an individual. It requires a buy-in from everyone from the top leadership down.”

In addition, it is worth saying that employees at all levels should be involved in the data system development process, to ensure compatibility and realistic adoption and utilisation of the system. The human resource is what will bring an organisation the strongest return on any data investment.

Is data analytics for your organisation?

Some regulators may believe they are too small or the resource required to harness data is too great. However, these four steps can be completed at various levels, just as law firms of all sizes are engaging in data tools. Ultimately, it will be a matter of survival for regulators to keep pace with those they regulate. Information has a strong multiplier effect, and data analytics has the power to transform regulation and industry’s productivity as a whole.


We are interested in hearing about how your institution is using data to assist in regulation. Let us know! Interested in the power of data in regulation – get involved at this year’s annual conference. Contact Jim McKay (jamesmckay@lawscot.org.uk) to become involved as a speaker or session moderator. 

Colorado Lawyer Self-Assessment Program yields analytical insights

Colorado Supreme Court Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel started developing its lawyer self-assessment program more than two years ago, immediately after a seminal workshop on proactive, risk-based regulation at the 41st ABA National Conference of Professional Responsibility in May 2015. The new resource is a leading facet of a larger shift toward proactive management-based regulation, which aims to help lawyers practice ethically and soundly in the first place, rather than just reactively imposing discipline after lawyers make mistakes.

The new system provides the regulatory team with real time stats on lawyer engagement and self-assessed professional performance. It highlights the professional objectives scoring the highest and lowest across all respondents, providing the team with evidence to support further educational program development. The platform also has the ability to create customized lists of continuing legal education (CLE) resources based on each respondent’s own personal benchmarks and areas of need. These lists make yearly CLE planning fast and easy for lawyers, and keeps them focused on the most effective resources for their needs.

Jon White, staff attorney at the regulator, writes “The practice of law will always be challenging. The “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” approach of the proactive practice program seeks to reduce some of that stress. The self-assessments give lawyers the blueprint to build an ethical infrastructure. Lawyers, in turn, benefit from enhanced peace of mind. Clients benefit from exceptional service. It is a win-win for all.” The insights generated by the program’s data is informing the regulator where practitioners need more assistance, and where there may be weaker points in the sector as a whole. Staying ahead of this issues protects the public and strengthens the jurisdiction as a whole.

Read more about Colorado’s Lawyer Self-Assessment Program Here

 

post

Transparency lies at the heart of Consumer Satisfaction

In January, the Legal Services Board (LSB) of England & Wales released its “Regulatory Performance: Transitional Assessment Review” looking at the transitional assessment of each legal services regulatory body against the LSB’s regulatory performance standards. The report found that it had “sufficient assurance that the regulatory bodies have met the minimum required level of performance against the majority of expected outcomes”.

Transparency across the legal services market lies at the heart of consumer satisfaction. Recent Competition and Market Authority statistics found that before choosing their legal service provider 85% of consumers want better access to information, 53% want information about price, and 37% of consumers what to know about the quality of the service they would receive. In response, the Solicitors Regulation Authority released new price transparency rules, which requires regulated firms to publish price and service information on their websites.

Since 6 December 2018, all solicitors firms had to publish cost information in relation to conveyancing, probate, debt, employment and immigration. The new rules dictate that firms must provide a total cost or an average or range of costs, as well as explain the basis of these charges, including any hourly rate or fixed fees. Firms also must be clear on whether VAT is included, while also highlighting likely disbursements, and their costs. Any conditional or damages-based fees must be fully explained to clients who may have to make payments.

In addition to price transparency, firms are also required to ensure consumers under stand the services they require and are receiving. The rules demand firms

  • Explain what services are included for the quoted price
  • Highlight any services not included within the price, which a client may reasonably expect to be
  • Include information on key stages and typical timescales of these, and
  • Publish the qualifications and experience of anyone carrying out the work and of their supervisors.

SRA’s ‘Looking to the Future’ programme is based on a sound argument that law firms must become more transparent if they are to survive. Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said: “Publishing information on price, services and protections will not only benefit the public, but will also help law firms win new business. Research shows that people struggle to find clear information about the services firms offer and think using a solicitor is more expensive than it actually is. We are providing guidance and support for firms to help them meet the new requirements and make the most of the opportunities they bring.”

The SRA has taken consumer protection and transparency a step further, introducing a new Digital Badge. Provided via software which will make sure only regulated firms can display it, the badge will show online visitors which firms are regulated and provide them with a link to information on the protections this provides. Displaying the badge will help firms differentiate themselves from unregulated providers. Use of the badge is initially voluntary but will become a mandatory requirement during 2019.

Challenges of Transparency

Due to the business structures of many law firms, publishing fees is no straightforward matter, leading to some to use a confusing blend of charts, costs schedules, calculators and costs estimates. It is the unknown factors of pursuing legal cases which can alter costs. Russell Conway, senior partner at Oliver Fisher, notes, “It’s the wiggle room issue which is going to be the bellwether as to how successful this project is”.

Price transparency undoubtedly remains vital to consumer protection and satisfaction. However, there are concerns that some consumers may be heavily influenced by price, rather than by skill and expertise. David Kirwan questions if, in a new transparent pricing environment, consumers will truly stop and weigh skills and expertise, rather than revert to low costs. These concerns are not isolated to the UK market, as globally practitioners have expressed concerns about an eventual ‘race to the bottom’. Kirwan notes that “How we as an industry respond, and the way in which we convince consumers that it’s worth potentially paying more to receive a high-quality service, will be crucial if we are to retain the high standards for which this country’s legal sector has become known”.

Complaints Transparency

In considering the question of quality of legal services, greater transparency and public access to disciplinary records is also needed. One of the key findings of the LSB report highlighted that regulators must continue to maintain records of disciplinary sanctions in their official registers. The SRA has issued guidance to help firms clearly understand their obligations under Rule 2.1 of the SRA Transparency Rules to publish complaints. This guidance includes information on complaints handling procedure details, how and when a complaint can be made to the Legal Ombudsman, and details about how and when a complaint can be made to the SRA. Sarah Chambers, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) stated that “Making enforcement data available to consumers is an area that will particularly benefit from consistency in approach”.

Ultimately, providing the public with as much clarity and information as possible when it comes to the legal services they require can benefit not only the consumer, but promote and ensure quality and competence of the industry as a whole. The new transparency rules promulgated by the SRA in December 2018 will improve public access to legal services, ensuring such information on legal service providers is readily available to consumers.


Interested in transparency and enforcement? Contact us and share what is happening in your jurisdiction. There are also opportunities to get involved with the topic at the annual conference. Contact Jim McKay (jamesmckay@lawscot.org.uk) to become involved as a speaker or session moderator.

post

An Australian Study on Lawyer Vulnerability & Legal Misconduct

Vulnerability to Legal Misconduct: Qualitative Study of Regulatory Decisions Involving Problem Lawyers and Their Clients

An emerging body of scholarship discusses ‘vulnerability’ as an antecedent of legal misconduct. One conceptualization of vulnerability indicates that an individual has greater susceptibility to risk of harm, and safeguards may protect against that risk of harm. This empirical study adds to the normative research with a qualitative analysis of 72 lawyers with multiple complaints and at least one hearing, paid financial misconduct claim, or striking from the roll (“problem lawyers”) in Victoria, Australia, between 2005 and 2015 through 311 regulatory decisions. We found that problem lawyers were disproportionately likely to be male, over age 45, and work in a sole or small practice. A quarter of these lawyers suffered from health impairments and among the clients harmed, half had cognitive impairments, were older age, or non-native English speakers. These findings underscore the need to better understand vulnerabilities to promote lawyer well-being, protect exposed clients, and reduce lapses in professionalism.

Access Full Report Here

Authors: 

  • Tara Sklar, University of Arizona – James E. Rogers College of Law
  • Jennifer Schulz Moore, University of New South Wales (UNSW) – Faculty of Law
  • Yamna Taouk, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health
  • Marie M Bismark, University of Melbourne
post

Indiana professional rules limit lawyers’ speech about judges

The Indiana Lawyer has released an article tackling one of the legal sector’s most contentious issues – Rule of Professional Conduct 8.2(a), which governs lawyers’ speech about judges. Lawyers, it seems, don’t want to address the topic for fear of being perceived as speaking critically of the judiciary, while judges seemingly don’t want to discuss situations where they feel they have been unfairly criticized. According to an Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law professor, the unease surrounding Rule 8.2(a) is not a matter of respect, but rather a matter of lawyer fear. Professor Margaret Tarkington takes a deep dive into caselaw surrounding lawyer speech and related discipline and concludes that rules similar to 8.2(a) can cause attorneys to stay tight-lipped even in the face of judicial misconduct.

Read the full article from Indiana Lawyer Here

ICLR 2017 – Panel: Effective New Regulatory Responses to Complaints

A synopsis of panel session 5, which takes place on 6 October at ICLR Singapore, kindly provided by the session’s moderator, Susan Saab Fortney – Professor and Associate Dean for Research, Texas A & M University School of Law. Conference materials will be made available to ICLR.net members after the conference.

The session examines new regulatory approaches to handling complaints. The following identifies the participants and the focus of their remarks:

Mr. Gregory Vijayendran, the President of the Law Society of Singapore, will introduce the roles and functions of the first two professional disciplinary bodies (the Review Committee and Inquiry Committee) and their interface with the Law Society Council in practice. He will also discuss the genesis and raison d’etre of a new, nuanced Inappropriate Conduct in Court regime incepted last year.

Mr. Edwin San, serves as the Senior Assistant Registrar of the Supreme Court of Singapore and as the Registrar in charge of the Disciplinary Tribunal Secretariat. Mr. San will discuss the work of the Disciplinary Tribunal Secretariat, the role and functions of the Disciplinary Tribunals, as well as the final stage of the disciplinary regime when the matter is referred to the Court of 3 Judges.

Ms. Kathryn Stone, the Chief Legal Ombudsman for England and Wales will explain how the Legal Ombudsman came about, what powers it has and how it is the alternative for England and Wales. She will also cover how the ombudsman scheme has moved away from self-regulation and the interesting challenges it faces due to Brexit.

Mr. John Elliot, the Regulator of Solicitors and Director of Regulation with the Law Society of Ireland. Mr. Elliot will provide an overview of the “multiple complaints scheme” operated by the Law Society of Ireland that allows the Law Society to impose special conditions on the practicing certificate of solicitors with a record of multiple complaints.

Mr. Robert Brittan the Deputy Commissioner of the Legal Services Commission Queensland will discuss the Commission’s approach to regulation, how they handle complaints, and their jurisdiction as opposed to other regulators in Australia. He will describe what the Commission can and cannot do and compensation for complainants.

Professor Susan Fortney, Professor & Associate Dean for Research at Texas A&M University, United States, will moderate the session.

Why is this session of particular interest and to whom?

Around the world many regulators are pursuing creative initiatives to advance public protection and improve the delivery of legal services. This session provides a window  to look at new approaches used by regulators in four different jurisdictions.

What particularly do you hope to explore in this session?  Any specific questions you hope to answer?

We would like to examine the importance of exploring new regulatory approaches and the practical challenges to doing so.  We would like the conference attendees to reflect on their own experiences, considering the opportunities and challenges. In addition, we hope to provide a roundtable discussion of how we evaluate the success and effectiveness of programmatic changes.

What do you hope to achieve with this session?

We hope that the overview and roundtable discussion fosters understanding, helping regulators in tackling issues in their own jurisdiction.  It should also provide an opportunity to learn about others who may provide insights and assistance.

Singapore protocol adds non-regulatory approach to tackle inappropriate conduct in court

Following an increase in lapses of courtesy and inappropriate conduct in court, a new protocol for providing judicial feedback was introduced on 1 September 2016. It seeks to plug the gap between taking no action and making a formal disciplinary complaint. In this article, Thio Shen Yi, Senior Counsel, President of the Law Society, explained the reasons for the protocol.

The article was featured in the Law Society of Singapore’s monthly newsletter, and the president’s message appeared in the July issue of the Singapore Law Gazette.

Article: A Third Way

Newsletter of the Law Society of Singapore, October edition

Singapore Law Gazette website

IBA Legal Regulators Directory

The International Bar Association (IBA) compiled a list of organisations that are responsible for regulating the legal profession around the world.

The directory covers the main regulated legal profession(s) in each country. It divides the regulatory functions governing legal practice into three stages: admission, practice and discipline. It indicates the body responsible for each function and how it may be contacted. Where possible, links to the relevant organisations’ websites are also included.

Legal Regulators Directory on the IBA website

Findings from the Legal Regulators Directory

Legal Regulators Directory as PDF

Canada discipline process

These materials were presented at the 2016 International Conference of Legal Regulators.

Session title: Attorney Discipline System Intake and Investigation Procedures From Around the Globe: Comparative Analysis and Best Practices

Canada national discipline standards

Canada national implementation guide