The Solicitors Regulation Authority will set out a new enforcement policy this summer backed by new insights into what the public wants.
The regulator today published the detailed findings of its consultation into what should happen if a solicitor breaches the rules.
Around 5,400 members of the public and the legal profession were surveyed on Twitter, at conferences and through the SRA website, ranking the importance to be placed on different levels of misconduct.
The SRA says it will use the data to help develop an enforcement policy that will provide clarity about where and why it would take action against a solicitor. This will be published in the summer.
Chief executive Paul Philip (pictured) said the results appear to show the public are in tune with the regulator about what issues should be taken most seriously.
Misuse of client money, criminal activities and/or dishonesty were all viewed as most serious, and the public also sought extra punishment where there was evidence of clear intent to do wrong. The public saw information security issues, for example losing client files, as more serious than solicitors did.
Respondents to the survey judged as ‘serious’ scenarios such as solicitors pestering clients for a date, writing a personal blog which uses racist language, and misleading clients about success rates in previous cases.
The survey found slightly less concern where a solicitor has not paid a tax bill, is convicted of dangerous driving and where they take on new clients without the resources to manage the increased workload.
Philip said: ‘These results show that we are generally focusing on the issues that really matter to the public and the profession. That is encouraging. We can now build on this as we develop our enforcement policy.
'Just as trust in the profession is essential, the public and the profession also need to trust that we take a fair and consistent approach when we make decisions. We are publishing the raw data to encourage others to use it for their own research and as part of our commitment to transparency.’
A Law Society spokesperson said: ‘Misuse of client money, criminal activities or dishonesty are extremely serious offences in any profession or walk of life.
‘The vast majority of solicitors have the highest ethical and professional standards, working at all times in the best interests of their clients. In the rare instances where trust is broken it is essential that misconduct is addressed through robust processes. This helps to maintain the high standards of professional ethics that underpin public trust in the profession and the rule of law.’