UK legal firms should treat regulators fining as a wake up call

Legal firms in England and Wales are awaiting the outcome of a consultation that could see their regulator gain more power over its fining capabilities. The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) is proposing that it should be able to increase its fining powers to £100,000 for – among other reasons – consistency, fairness and prompter action on regulatory infringements – and it has huge implications for legal practitioners who are not paying enough attention to the regulator’s expectations, and those of their own clients.

It is a shot across the bows for those which are not up to speed with the SRA Code of Conduct 2011. Stephen Carris, Head of CPD Training at LBS Legal, specialists in legal business support who offer training, accreditation and support for solicitors, says that currently some are only paying lip service to the requirements of the 2011 Code and are unwittingly already vulnerable to attracting SRA investigations, actions which may lead to graver consequences for solicitors in breach if the regulator’s proposals are granted.

“This proposed increase of fines could easily and instantly destroy a law firm. They need to recognise this and act to protect themselves, through risk assessment, by meeting accreditation benchmarks, and by training staff on best practice so frameworks can be put into place and followed,” he says. “It can take only one small slip, one minor error of judgement, to bring a legal practice to its knees.”

The major issue, he says, is risk management, a protocol so important to the ongoing success of a law firm that he includes it in almost every training programme he delivers, from data protection to anti-money laundering. “Anecdotally, I’m aware that solicitors under-estimate threat and therefore don’t take the necessary steps to safeguard their businesses. Audits we conduct during the process of helping a practice become accredited, for example, have revealed worrying risk management issues.”

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