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Take care with vulnerable clients, SRA urges

Solicitors have been urged by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to ensure they pay close attention to clients' needs from the outset to make sure they deliver a proper standard of service.

The authority is particularly alive to the risks of the most vulnerable members of society not receiving the right service. Providing appropriate client care that meets the particular needs of a client is an important requirement in the SRA's Outcomes-focused regulation regime through the new Principles and Code of Conduct.

Principle 5 of the new code states solicitors should provide a proper standard of service to clients, while a number of the listed Outcomes add more detail about how this should be achieved. Ensuring these minimum standards are delivered by firms that have a vulnerable client base is an area of priority for the SRA.

Samantha Barrass, SRA Executive Director, said: "Firms need to think carefully about how to deliver an appropriate approach to client care for those who may be vulnerable for any physical, social, or psychological reasons. We think at least some firms already need to consider their systems and processes with this in mind. Moreover, with the foreshadowed changes in legal aid, we think the risk that standards may drop has increased, so this is a priority for engagement with relevant firms.

"For example, if a firm specialises in family law and has a client base where some do not speak English particularly well, it is unlikely that simply putting a lot of information into a long client care letter will be sufficient. Yet there are firms who have told me that they do just that!. They do it because it is what they have always done, they thought it was compliant with the old code, and are assuming it will continue to be compliant.

"Under the old regulatory framework, compliance might have been achieved by providing that client with a letter detailing all the ins and outs of the legal process, and what the firm would be providing. For many clients under the new regime, this may fit their needs; for others it may not.

"It is clear that the same approach for each client does not always work, particularly when they are vulnerable."

As well as Principle 5, Outcome 1.12 and Outcome 1.13 in the Code of Conduct are important client care outcomes, and firms with a vulnerable client base will need to think carefully about their approach to delivering these.

  • O(1.12): clients are in a position to make informed decisions about the services they need, how their matter will be handled and the options available to them.
  • O(1.13): clients receive the best possible information, both at the time of engagement and when appropriate as their matter progresses, about the likely overall cost of their matter.

Samantha Barrass emphasised the need to focus on client care at the "Risk management for law firms" Conference organised by Managing Partner Events at the De Vere Holborn Bars, London on Tuesday and Wednesday, December 6 and 7. This annual conference provides learning and networking for risk management leaders, with the aim of providing information to help firms defend themselves against strategic and operational risk.  

 
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