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Rule changes

The 18th edition of the SRA Handbook went live on 1 November 2016 and by now all firms should be comfortable that their solicitors are planning their CPD activity for the year.  COLPs in particular should be conscious of their duty to put systems in place to ensure that solicitors in the firm are compliant.  Firms will need to make a declaration during bulk renewals that firms are compliant.  We can help make the process easier in a few ways:

  • we have a free training video and template policy on the new regime on our website;
  • our CPD app is a complete firm-wide solution.  For £495.00 per year plus £15 per solicitor user (excluding VAT) you can train staff online, automate email chasers and report on firm-wide compliance with the click of a button. You can request a free demo or register interest for a free trial by replying to this email or finding out more on our website.

The SRA has a continuing competence toolkit on its website too which includes template forms for individuals to manually plan and log CPD.

Looking forward to the big changes coming in 2017 the SRA has begun consultations on a new Handbook which it had initially indicated would come into force at some point in 2017.  Though it is generally a significant relaxation on prescription from the current Handbook firms should be prepared for getting grips with another new rule book once the details are finalised later in the year.  The other significant proposal we will learn more about in 2017 is the possibility that law firms, or at least firms undertaking certain work, will be required to publish transparent pricing information.

Latest guidance, guides and warnings

  • the SRA has published a warning in the context of immigration work, though its focus upon clearly presenting funding options to clients and not conducting ‘abusive’ or ‘improper’ litigation follow wider themes of concern evident at the SRA.  Specifically, the SRA has stressed the need for lawyers to ensure that clients (and vulnerable clients in particular) understand all funding options available to them and that pursuing judicial reviews without merit for tactical purposes could be an abuse of process and constitute misconduct.  We have a free training course online on the duty to the Court and in litigation which examines SRA warnings about ‘improper’ and ‘abusive’ litigation.  There are also some broader case studies on the duty to the Court and misleading the Court on the SRA website;
  • the SRA has published a warning to solicitors whose clients become involved in investment schemes and published a press release about the tough sanctions faced by a number of solicitors involved in problematic schemes.  The SRA is concerned that the involvement of solicitors in certain investment schemes may give the impression of credibility or security.  Solicitors must properly understand such schemes and advise clients in their best interests.  Solicitors should never facilitate or turn a blind eye to client investments which offer unrealistic returns (20% is the example given).  Examples given of problematic schemes included carbon credit trading, diamond / mineral trading, landbanking, leasing a hotel room, overseas agricultural rights, famous works of art being used as security for an investment scheme and property developments overseas.  Remember too that client accounts should only be used if there is a genuine underlying legal transaction involved and never as a banking facility;
  • the SRA published a conflicts Q & A last year which readers may have missed but it gives an interesting view on when two matters become ‘related’ and so could constitute a conflict.  The example involves a firm acting in two previously unrelated divorces and a conflict arising later when one party from each divorce enter into a separate relationship and begin cohabiting;
  • the SRA has stated that it may still be appropriate in some circumstances to pay interest to clients for monies held in the client account even if the firm is actually being charged ‘negative interest‘;
  • the SRA has published guidance on social media use which includes a couple of interesting warnings about not revealing your client’s identity by inadvertently posting your location to social media during a client visit and the risk of creating a retainer unintentionally during online discussions;
  • the SRA has published guidance on what to do in litigation if you have concerns as to how truthful a client has been with the Court.  Note that this does appear to advocate a tougher line in civil proceedings than is suggested as being necessary by the Law Society in putting the prosecution to proof in a criminal trial if a defendant admits guilt during privileged discussions;
  • the SRA has published a toolkit for solicitors working in the Youth Court which it considers would be helpful reading for all solicitor advocates more generally;
  • the Information Commissioner (ICO) has promoted a number of top tips for avoiding ransomware attacks;
  • the Information Commissioner (ICO) has published a webinar about keeping information safe when on the go and when working at home.  Clearly the ICO would expect lawyers to only take hard copy records out of the office when necessary and only in a locked bag.  The profession still seems to have a long way to go here but don’t be surprised by an ICO fine if anything goes missing on the go that’s not been locked up securely;

Tribunal trends and hot topics

  • one in four firms have been targeted in cybercrime attacks with conveyancing theft now having been confirmed by the SRA to be the biggest cybercrime problem facing law firms.  A story of a client who lost £67,000 when emails purporting to be from his solicitor provided new banking details for receipt of funds also made national press recently.  The Telegraph reported that some solicitors are failing to warn clients of the risks. Many firms are now including warnings in business terms and email disclaimers to stress (among other things) that the firm will not change bank accounts mid-transaction and will not accept responsibility for any loss where funds have been sent to the wrong account.  Remember that emails are ultimately not very secure and that email accounts can be spoofed so as to look like they’re coming from a certain address when they are not;
  • Mishcon de Reya have been ordered to pay £1 million after becoming the victim of identity fraud.  The Law Society Gazette has reported that the claim was based on an alleged failure to seek an undertaking from the purported seller’s solicitors that it had taken reasonable steps to establish its client’s identity.  It is reported that tenants posing as owners is a growing problem;
  • a number of solicitors have been removed from the profession for trying to cover up a mistake, including a number of junior lawyers who appeared to feel unable to speak to colleagues about the problem.  Junior lawyers should be encouraged to always speak to someone about a problem.  Solicitors can recover from mistakes – there’s no coming back from a cover up.  However well intentioned the efforts to put things right failing to come clean will inevitably result in being struck off the roll of solicitors.  Recent cases include a partner tampering with a file who agreed to leave the profession, faking an invoice and a solicitor with a heavy workload who was struck off after paying client damages out of his own pocket following a failure to issue proceedings in time;
  • a solicitor has been sanctioned for letting client account residual balances stack up;
  • further sanctions for failures to supervise staff to the standard required have been handed out at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal including a case involving a thieving cashier and a newly qualified solicitor;

Key dates

As above, the new CPD regime is now in force and solicitors should be making their CPD plans for the year if they’ve not done so already.

Important information about these updates

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