Q. I regularly socialise with one of my solicitor colleagues and his girlfriend. His girlfriend has told me that he has been drinking heavily for some months and during a recent row, he hit out at her. I have also noticed that he has become increasingly aggressive towards colleagues and clients alike. He has a heavy workload and I’m concerned that it could be due to stress. What should I do?
A. The incident with his girlfriend happened in a private context, but conduct outside practice may nevertheless result in disciplinary measures if that behaviour is likely to diminish the trust the public places in that solicitor or the legal profession (rule 1.06 of the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct 2007).
You do have a duty to report serious misconduct to the Solicitors Regulation Authority under rule 20.06 of the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct 2007. However, since you did not witness the incident and cannot judge the seriousness of it, this is unlikely to apply. Nevertheless, given your concern that your colleague’s behaviour is affecting the clients of the firm, you should consider raising your concerns with one of the managers of the firm so that, if need be, appropriate steps can be taken to safeguard the clients’ interests (such as by reducing your colleague’s workload or providing more support).
If your colleague is suffering from stress or alcohol dependency, LawCare (www.lawcare.org.uk , an independent organisation which provides support to lawyers in respect of work-related health problems) will be able to assist.
In these circumstances, it is better to take immediate steps to deal with the problem rather than waiting, when the consequences could be more serious both for the firm and your colleague.