There are increasing reports of ‘touting’ by criminal defence law firms – where they use agents to approach potential clients, even if they already have representation – the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has warned.
The regulator said it was working with the Law Society, which has its own concerns about the practice, to address the problem, and urged solicitors to report instances of touting.
The SRA said some touts appear at prisons to try and sign up clients – firms allegedly also have advocates/runners camped by the magistrate’ court doors picking up potential clients.
Some wait outside police stationS and introduce themselves to other firms’ own clients, asking them to sign up legal aid with them, offering money to change solicitors, and paying people to refer clients to them.
Other practices include loitering near courtrooms that deal with first appearances, handing out cards outside police stations, and paying ‘finders’ to go to local estates and recommend a specific firm.
The SRA emphasised that the code of conduct bans solicitors and their agents from proactively approaching potential clients in person in a bid to increase business. “Marketing strategies should be non-intrusive, a rule that also bans cold calling.”
Speaking after a meeting with Richard Miller, head of legal aid at the Law Society, Crispin Passmore, the SRA’s executive director for policy, said: “I told the Law Society that we are already concerned about reports of touting in criminal practice. While the majority of solicitors and firms continue to act professionally, we want to increase our focus in this area.
“Firms working in this way not only undermine the rule of law, they also impede the public’s access to high-quality legal advice. This is especially concerning because those involved in criminal cases could be very vulnerable.
“We can all address this problem by working together. We would encourage solicitors and firms to report any concerns about touting quickly and clearly. Often a small piece of information can complete a wider picture for us and we can then better target our efforts to tackle this problem.”