Lawyers’ Ethics Written Down
In Week 1, we learned that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is the body responsible for regulating the 130,000 or so solicitors in England & Wales.
The SRA takes a three-pronged approach to standard setting and principles in the context of lawyers’ ethics:
(i) it sets out high level, mandatory ‘principles’;
(ii) it gives a series of detailed, topic specific rules on conduct; and
(iii) it promulgates a statement on the competence of qualified solicitors (which includes, among other things, ethical matters).
The 10 high level principles are found at the very front of the SRA’s Handbook (the rulebook which is the regulator’s prime means of regulation). These 10 principles are ‘mandatory’ and apply to all solicitors at all times. They cover a wide range of matters: the rule of law, the client’s interests, independence, respecting the regulator, equality and diversity etc. We will look at them further later in the week.
Further on in the SRA’s Handbook, in the Code of Conduct, are very detailed conduct rules on matters including confidentiality, client acceptance, anti money laundering, conflicts of interest etc. These apply in specific contexts (e.g. when a law firm takes on a new client). The Code is split into 15 Chapters. These Chapters contain ‘Outcomes’, ‘Indicative Behaviours’ and ‘Notes’. The Outcomes describe what firms and individuals are expected to achieve in order to comply with the relevant Principles in the context of the relevant Chapter of the Code. The SRA says that:
“The Outcomes are supplemented by indicative behaviours. The Indicative Behaviours specify, but do not constitute an exhaustive list of, the kind of behaviour which may establish compliance with, or contravention of the Principles. These are not mandatory but they may help us to decide whether an Outcome has been achieved in compliance with the Principles.”
The SRA’s Handbook is long (more than 150,000 words) and complex. The regulator has this year announced a fundamental review of the Handbook to make it shorter and more focused.
In March 2015, the SRA released a ‘Competence Statement’ that sets out the expected standards of all qualified solicitors. The Statement begins with the following two requirements:
(i) ‘recognising ethical issues and exercising effective judgment in addressing them’; and
(ii) ‘understanding and applying the ethical concepts which govern their role and behaviour as a lawyer.’
These two requirements are broad and are, as yet, unaccompanied by any further guidance on what they mean.
Below are links to the SRA consultation on its new Handbook and regulatory approach (called ‘Looking to the Future’) and a blog by Steven on what the Competence Statement requirements in relation to ethics might mean for lawyers in practice.
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