Why must the regulator go after solicitors who commit a minor offence in their private life?
If you have chosen to follow the Solicitors Regulation Authority on Twitter, then you may need to get out more.
But seriously, if regulation is your thing you will have been bombarded in recent weeks with tweets about the ‘Question of Trust’ campaign.
The tweets ask solicitors and members of the public to decide how harshly - or not - they should treat errant solicitors. You can have a go yourself here. The survey closes at the end of January, with a consultation based on the results likely next summer.
It’s not just on social media: the SRA has toured the country in recent weeks, even dropping into party conferences with their keypads (like those the audience used in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) for people to vote on what to do with misbehaving solicitors.
I got to take part last month at the COLPs and COFAs conference (an improbable sell-out, with more than 700 delegates flocking to a nondescript Birmingham hotel).
Despite my reservations, it was an enjoyable experience, especially when certain solicitors sought to sabotage the results by voting for ‘strike off’ in every case.
What struck me, a humble layman, was how differently solicitors seemed to approach certain offences.
Any appearance before the beak - even for drink-driving - saw a sizeable number of solicitors throw the book at their peers.
Equally, those who left clients’ details open to 'peeping toms' on the train, or failed to put up decent internet security systems to block access to client details, were treated more leniently. Solicitors seemed to approach these cases with a ‘could have happened to anyone’ attitude and in many cases opted to advise the SRA that a stern warning would suffice.
Their mindset seemed to be the polar opposite of mine, perhaps because of my non-lawyer status.
I regarded the loss - or casual approach to keeping safe - of client details as one of the cardinal sins short of outright dishonesty. When I instruct a solicitor I expect every element to remain confidential; that means closing the laptop on the evening commute and not letting the briefcase out of your sight.
By contrast, I can’t say I would be especially keen to intervene if a solicitor had committed a minor offence that didn’t directly their ability to practise.
Sure, as a client I may choose to ditch a solicitor with a drink-drive conviction, or one for drugs possession, and the firm would surely want to have a quiet chat at least. But if the courts have dealt with them, does the SRA need to as well?
I’d much rather the regulator, which has enough on its plate, busied itself with misconduct that will directly affect me as a customer/client: keep my details secure, leave my client account alone and run my case efficiently. I don’t really care about my lawyer's private life. Why should I?
John Hyde is Gazette deputy news editor