Upholding Professional Standards 2018/19

Welcome to the Upholding Professional Standards review for 2018/19

We know that the vast majority of the 199,000 solicitors and 10,300 law firms we regulate do a good job and provide high-quality legal services. But, when people or firms fall short of the standards that we set, we can take action to enforce our standards and make sure that the public can continue to place confidence in the profession. This report looks at how and when we do that.

It also looks at the key themes in our work. You will see that, during 2018/19, we continued to receive reports, 64 in total, about sexual harassment in the workplace. This year, new themes have emerged in relation to ground rents and leasehold issues, as well as solicitor health and wellbeing.

This year’s review covers a transition period during which we brought in a new Enforcement Strategy and implemented a new assessment and early resolution process. The new process focuses on upfront engagement with all concerned, delivering earlier outcomes and improving customer service. I anticipate this will make quite a difference to the shape of investigations work in future reports.

In this report we have, for the first time since 2014, reported on the diversity characteristics of the people involved in our enforcement processes. There are various practical reasons why we have been unable to report on this aspect of enforcement work in recent years. While we tackled these, we have taken forward important steps to address the recommendations set out in an earlier independent review of diversity in enforcement.

The new data shows that there continues to be an overrepresentation of men and people from an ethnic minority background in the set of solicitors about whom concerns are raised. The key question for us now is, what can we do to change this for the future? To help answer this question, we have committed to commissioning independent research in 2021 to understand the structural factors that bring such overrepresentation to our front door, and to identify what we can do about this and where we can work with others to make a difference. These are difficult issues and it is certainly time to see what we can all do to shift the dial.

I hope this year's report will offer some insight into what is a critical, complex and often challenging area of our work.

Anna Bradley, Chair of the SRA Board