Law firms face fines or closure over ‘incompetent’ solicitors as watchdog renews crackdown
The UK’s solicitors’ watchdog has warned that law firms could be fined or shut down if they fail to deal with incompetent solicitors, as it looks to take tougher action against firms and lawyers that fail to meet the regulator’s expectations.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said yesterday that it intends to “broaden the ways” it identifies incompetence in the profession, particularly in relation to solicitors dealing with “vulnerable” clients, in practice areas such as immigration law, and take action against law firms and lawyers that fail to improve.
After being asked by City A.M. what sanctions incompetent lawyers could face, the watchdog said it has the power to shut down law firms, strike off solicitors, and hand out fines of up to £25,000.
SRA chief executive Paul Philip said: “We expect the profession to deliver a high standard of service to those who need their help.”
“That means we must make sure that solicitors and the employees of firms we regulate have up-to-date skills, knowledge and behaviours.”
The regulator’s pledge comes after the Legal Services Board (LSB) – which regulates the legal sector’s regulators – called on legal watchdogs in July to toughen their enforcement around incompetence.
The LSB’s call came after its own surveys showed the vast majority of people in England & Wales believe regulators should be doing more to tackle ineptitude in the profession.
Its research showed none of the legal sector regulators have “comprehensive and up-to-date information” on competence in the legal sector.
The standards board noted that while legal sector regulators have measures in place to ensure lawyers uphold standards when they first enter the job, experienced lawyers’ work is rarely reviewed.
“Each regulator will need to develop an evidence-based approach to implementing our policy that is suitable for their regulated community,” Helen Phillips, LSB chair, said.
The SRA’s response to the LSB’s call is set to see the watchdog publish annual reviews of competence among solicitors in a bid to bridge the information gap.