Fall into a refreshed Autumn Outlook

Autumn is a time for change. Risks constantly change and evolve too, so this is the perfect opportunity to discuss a new approach to the way we tell you about emerging issues.

Since our Risk Outlook was published in the summer, the legal services market has continued to change. Our autumn update to the 10 Priority Risks gives you the latest information, trends and case studies.

Our new approach is that, from now on, we will update a Priority Risk when there is new information to share instead of collating them all in a seasonal update. That way, you get information when you need it. We will let you know through channels such as social media or Compliance News, helping you adapt quickly to deal with the significant issues.

The annual Risk Outlook gives information to help protect law firms and their clients. So far, the Risk Outlook webpages have been viewed over 10,000 times since the summer. This is up 69 percent compared to this time last year. We find it encouraging that firms are actively looking to understand the risks in the market.

So, for one last time, here is some of the information noted in our autumn update.

Key updates to the Priority Risks

There are useful updates for all of the Priority Risks. Along with the update there is an at-a-glance guide to all the latest information, such as new and updated ethics guidance, warning notices and our research reports.

From December 2018, firms must display prices and service information if they publish that they work in certain practice areas. This important change helps to address issues in the following priority risks:

Access to legal services

Many people and small businesses do not use a solicitor or barrister for their legal needs. This is often because they cannot afford legal services or do not have the right information, especially about prices and services. Our update sets out that:

• our independent research and research by the Legal Services Board shows that small businesses do not think solicitors are cost effective and they are more likely to choose a solicitor when a firm publishes their prices

• our guidance helps firms to understand their obligations and gives best practice advice and example templates.

Standards of service

Poor service can lead to people not getting the help they need. Our update explains that:

• from December 2018, firms also have to display information about their complaints process and how clients can progress their complaint to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO)

• we have worked with LeO to tell the public about how they can complain to both us and LeO, as recommended in the independent research we both commissioned

• our continuing competence toolkit helps solicitors reflect on their practice and keep their technical, ethical and legal skills and knowledge up to date. In this way, solicitors can improve their service standards and reduce the risk of being reported to us or LeO.

Balancing duties in litigation update

Because risks evolve, we have also updated our 2015 Risk Outlook paper, Balancing Duties in Litigation. In this we set out our expectations about sexual harassment and the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

The updated paper makes it clear that harassment at work, and particularly sexual harassment, is a breach of the high standards expected of solicitors. We take inappropriate behaviour in the workplace very seriously. For example:

• We are keen to understand how law firms have responded to the raised profile of this risk. By sharing their experience with us of how they prevent and respond to allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace, we will be able to give firms examples of good and poor practice.

• We are working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and other legal regulators about what more we can do to encourage best practice from law firms.

The paper also has new case examples to highlight the need for solicitors to balance their duties to the court, their client, third parties and the wider public interest. Sometimes, this means that a solicitor should refuse instructions from someone or stop acting for them.

What’s next?

As you can see, there has been plenty to talk about in the last four months – which is why we are moving to a rolling approach to keeping you updated. Look out for:

• a new Risk Outlook paper on Technology and legal services, in December

• updates to the Priority Risks in your Compliance News email and on social media

• the annual Risk Outlook 2019/20 report in summer 2019 which will reflect our view on risks in the market for 2019/20.

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