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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

SRA consultation – Looking to the future: better information, more choice

The SRA is consulting on publishing more of the regulatory data that they hold about solicitors and firms they regulate. They are also consulting on asking the solicitors and firms they regulate to publish more information on the legal services they provide. The SRA is proposing to:

  • require firms to publish their price for services (limited initially to a select number of legal services)
  • require firms to publish a description of the services they offer – in the same areas we will ask firms to publish price information
  • require firms to make information on SRA regulatory protections available – this includes introducing a digital badge that verifies that a firm is regulated by the SRA
  • publish the data  already collect on first-tier complaints made against firms they regulate and their areas of practice
  • build a digital register that holds SRA key regulatory data about solicitors and firms they regulate in one place and make this available to the public.
  • require solicitors working in non-Legal Services Act regulated firms to inform clients that they are not subject to the SRA requirements for compulsory professional indemnity insurance.

The SRA is proposing these changes because they want to make sure that people have accurate and relevant information about a solicitor or firm when they are considering purchasing legal services. This will help members of the public and small businesses make informed choices and improve competition.

The consultation is running from 27 September 2017 until 20 December 2017. After the consultation closes, the SRA will collate and analyse all the responses and will then decide what next steps they need to take. To read the consultation and supporting documents in full see the SRA’s website.

This consultation is highly relevant to ICLR conference session 1, ‘Legal Regulation in the Age of Data’.  Topics to be explored in this session include: why and how regulators should harness data, working with external researchers, and what sort of information regulators can share to help the users of legal services.

The legal needs of small businesses 2015 survey

Large scale quantitative survey of the experiences of 10,528 small businesses, showing the origin of legal problems that they face and their strategies for dealing with these problems, including where they seek advice and their experiences of doing so.

Read the report on the LSB website

Innovation in legal services

The Solicitors Regulation Authority surveyed 1,500 organisations and concluded:

  • Alternative Business Structures (ABSs) have succeeded in promoting innovation and diversity; ABS Solicitors are 13-15 per cent more likely to introduce new legal services.
  • Solicitors are, on average, more innovative than other regulated legal services organisations in terms of both managerial and organisational changes.
  • 80 per cent of legal services organisations feel they have a leadership and culture which supports the development of new ideas.
  • The major effect of innovation in legal services has been to extend service range, improve quality and attract new clients.
  • Regulatory and legislative changes emerge as both a barrier to and driver of innovation. Regulatory and legislative issues were seen as being a significant impediment to innovation by only one fifth and one quarter of respondents respectively.

Solicitors Regulation Authority. “Innovation in legal services.” July 2015.