The Solicitors Regulation Authority is probing a number of unnamed firms over suspicions they are not protecting the wellbeing of their junior staff.
Juliet Oliver, the regulator’s general counsel, said last week that firms’ culture and demands on staff are being actively scrutinised, confirming that multiple investigations are ongoing.
The SRA has been criticised for its approach to prosecuting solicitors – often junior – who are alleged to have acted dishonestly, but not taking any action against their firms. In two separate high-profile cases, solicitors Sovani James and Claire Matthews have been struck off in recent years after saying they were afraid to admit to mistakes and were suffering from mental health problems when they committed misconduct.
SRA principles state that regulated firms must act in a way that upholds public trust and confidence in the solicitors’ profession.
Oliver, speaking during a webinar on wellbeing, said: ‘We try and take a holistic look when something goes wrong and [look at] the drivers and what role the firm has played. It is tricky but quite important we convey the message we take these things very seriously.’
Oliver stressed that the SRA has not changed its approach to prosecuting solicitors suspected to have been dishonest, and she emphasised that the principle established by the courts is that trust in the profession is paramount.
But she added: ‘We don’t approach cases with a one-size-fits-all attitude. We always look at the circumstances surrounding conduct or behaviour… we have decided in some cases not to take on cases where a person’s judgement was impaired as a result of their ill health.’
Speaking at the same seminar, hosted by insurance broker Lockton, Sharon Glynn of PII provider Travelers Insurance stressed the need for firms to look after the wellbeing of staff. ‘A firm’s culture is extremely important when I am underwriting risk,’ Glynn said.