The Solicitors Regulation Authority has found a notable disparity in how practitioners and members of the public regard information security.

The initial findings from a survey of more than 5,400 people were today revealed by the regulator, with agreement from solicitors and the public that dishonest and misuse of client money are the most serious offences that can be committed.

But solicitors showed more sympathy for anyone guilty of compromising client confidentiality, for example through ‘shoulder surfing’ or losing client files.

Crispin Passmore, the SRA’s executive director of policy, told an SRA conference in London today that a ‘significant’ number of lawyers said there was a balance to be struck between protecting client details and taking files out of the office to work remotely or out of office hours.

‘The public was not happy with that,’ said Passmore.

Solicitors and the public also diverged when it came to a practitioner’s competence, which was viewed as more serious by the public.

The results were unclear when it came to misconduct relating to a solicitor’s personal life, such as being involved in a drunken fight, fare-dodging or using racist language on a personal blog. The survey found no clear consensus on how the SRA should treat people who have done these things.

Asking people to respond to different scenarios, the full findings will be published later this year and used to help the SRA decide its approach to various examples of poor behaviour.

Meanwhile, SRA chief executive Paul Philip used today’s conference, chaired by Channel 4 News anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy, to renew his calls for a complete separation of the regulator from the Law Society.

The Competition and Markets Authority declined to recommend the move when it reported on the legal sector last week, but Philip said it remains the only way to ensure public confidence in the legal profession, saying at the moment it was regarded as an ‘old boy’s club’. He also repeated calls for solicitors to be prosecuted at the disciplinary tribunal according to the civil burden of proof, rather than the criminal one currently adhered to.