The initial findings from the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) ‘Question of trust’ exercise has found sharply divergent views about how to judge solicitors’ misconduct.
More than 5,000 people took part in the consultation – which aims to determine the correct baseline of solicitors’ behaviour when making regulatory decisions – through an online poll, events, Twitter and, for 34 participants, a full written response.
In his paper to this week’s SRA board meeting, chief executive Paul Philip said: “The data collected is still being analysed but so far the scenarios rated as least serious were those where there was no intention to do something wrong, such as mistakenly not paying a train fare or an administrative error meaning a practising certificate expired).
“Examples of scenarios viewed as the most serious include misusing client money or taking advantage of an elderly client.
“Interestingly, most questions had at least one person vote that it was a matter of no concern and one person that it was the most serious of behaviours. This highlights how different people’s views can be.”
Speaking afterwards to journalists, Mr Philip said that in a “handful of areas” – such as confidentiality and information security – there was a clear difference between the opinions of lawyers and of the public.
Some 19 of the 34 full consultation responses were from individuals, mainly solicitors, who “tended to be sympathetic to the position of the solicitor accused of wrong-doing”.
Mr Philip wrote in his report: “For example, an individual solicitor was more likely to say ‘no’ to questions about taking action on matters that occur in their private life but would qualify this by saying an investigation should be considered if the events had relevance to professional practice, such as financial dishonesty.
“In contrast, organisations [which responded, mainly representative bodies] were more likely to say ‘yes’ to questions about taking action on matters outside of practice, but qualify it by saying only if there was direct read across to professional life.”
In his remarks afterwards, Mr Philip acknowledged that many of these results were predictable, but it had been a valuable engagement exercise which had given both the profession and the public a “genuine voice”.