Legal services: conduct and client care

Lawyers and their staff have a duty to look after their client’s best interests and to act professionally and ethically at all times. Solicitors (and their employees) are required to follow the rules set out by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Unlike other professions, the legal profession is officially regulated. Solicitors (both individuals and law firms) are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). The SRA requires them to comply with 10 mandatory principles set out in the SRA Handbook. These principles are listed below and determine how they should act in the course of business.

SRA Principles
  1. SRA Principlesuphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice;
  2. act with integrity;
  3. not allow your independence to be compromised;
  4. act in the best interests of each client;
  5. provide a proper standard of service to your clients;
  6. behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services;
  7. comply with your legal and regulatory obligations and deal with your regulators and ombudsmen in an open, timely and co-operative manner;
  8. run your business or carry out your role in the business effectively and in accordance with proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles;
  9. run your business or carry out your role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity; and
  10. protect client money and assets.

Solicitors have to obey the SRA Code of Conduct. The code is intended for the benefit of clients and the public as a whole and sets out what solicitors and firms are expected to achieve a well as indicators (referred to as Indicative Behaviours) of whether they are achieving the outcomes expected by the SRA. These outcomes refer to professional ethics and conduct.

Solicitors’ duties are not restricted to their clients, they extend to the court, the regulators and to third parties.

  • Confidentiality is paramount in the legal profession. Solicitors have to keep their clients’ details and business strictly confidential expect where the client allows them to disclose information or when the law requires disclosure, for example, to government agencies.
  • Conflicts of interest must be avoided. This means solicitors should not act when there is potential for a conflict between clients, for example, acting for both the buyer of a property and the vendor of the same property.
  • Duties to the court. Solicitors should never lie or mislead the court on behalf of their client, for example, if a client has admitted having committed an offence, a solicitor should not put forward a plea of not guilty on their behalf. A solicitor should not tamper with evidence or influence the testimony of a witness.
  • Duties to third parties. A solicitor should not take advantage of an unrepresented party (litigant in person) or contact their client’s opponent directly if they have legal representation.
  • Client money. The Solicitors Accounts Rules lay down rules regarding the separation of client money from the firm’s money, for example, in probate or conveyancing cases, firms may have large sums of client money in their possession for a period of time. Any money paid by the client for services provides should be transferred to the firm’s account and kept totally separate from the client’s money.
  • Fees and costs. Solicitors have a duty to tell their clients how they will charged and give an estimate of the overall cost, including expenses and disbursements, whenever possible. They also have a duty to ask the client to look into alternative funding sources such as legal expenses insurance included in their home or car insurance or public funding. See costs, fees and funding .

When a solicitor or firm is instructed to act for a client, they should put in writing everything that was agreed at the meeting or during the phone conversation. The SRA Code of Conduct specifies the information that should be provided to the client, this is usually contained in what’s known as a client care letter.

The client care letter should contain the following details:

  • TheClient Care Letter name and position of the individual dealing with the case and the person supervising them.
  • As much information as possible with regards to costs and fees:
    • the fee earners’ hourly rates;
    • fixed fees if applicable;
    • explain the possibility of using alternative funding such as insurance or public funding
    • potential liability for other parties’ costs
  • Information about the client’s right to complain and details of the firm’s complaints procedures, including the name of the person who deals with complaints.
  • Their right to take complaints to the Legal Ombudsman if necessary.
  • A summary of key facts of the case and the advice provided to the client so far.
  • What both the firm and the client have agreed to do next.
  • A copy of the firms terms and conditions should be enclosed.

If a solicitor or firm has not acted properly, it may be necessary to complain. Examples of causes for complaint could be:

  • Not providing the service agreed or providing only part of the service.
  • Failing to act in a timely manner.
  • Charging more than what was agreed without justification.
  • Not explaining clearly what the quote did/did not include, for example, that any disbursements were in addition to the quote or that it did not include VAT.
  • Charging an hourly rate for a senior lawyer to do something and using a junior or trainee to provide the service.
  • Failing to inform you about alternative funding, such as that you could have been covered by your insurance or may have qualified for public funding.
  • Giving misleading or inaccurate information.
  • Disclosing information to a third party without your authorisation.
  • Not filing documents when required or filing them incorrectly to your detriment.
  • Failing to properly consult you before accepting or declining a proposed settlement.
  • Failing to provide you with important information, for example, in a conveyancing case, not telling you about a proposed new development near the house you plan to buy.

The above list is by no means exhaustive and refers to common grounds for complaint against a solicitor or firm you have instructed. There are times when you may want to report a firm’s wrong-doing even when they have not been instructed by you.

Although solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the SRA does not handle individual complaints. If you wish to complain about a firm or solicitor you have instructed, your first step will be to complain to the firm itself. If you are not satisfied with their response, you may take your compliant to the Legal Ombudsman.

INFOSee how to complain about your solicitor.

INFOIf you want to complain about a firm you have not instructed or about a breach of the SRA Code of Conduct or principles, see how to report to the SRA.