The Law Society has reminded solicitors of the sanctions they could face if they fail to meet the needs of vulnerable clients. Law Society resarch last year showed that nearly two-thirds of firms had provided legal services to vulnerable clients in the preceding 12 months.
A practice note aims to help solicitors adapt their practices to identify and meet the needs of vulnerable clients, who may be mentally or physically disabled, lack mental capacity to make decisions, or are vulnerable due to undue influence or duress.
It reminds solicitors that if they do not comply with principles on dealing with vulnerable clients they could face sanctions by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, complaints against them to the Legal Ombudsman, risks to their reputation and claims under the Equality Act 2010.
They could also be liable for breach of warrant of authority and a claim for compensation against them or their firm if they have not ensured the client was capable of instructing them, leaving the validity of a transaction open to challenge.
The note says solicitors should identify whether their client has requirements for communicating or accessing services and if they need support to understand and act on advice.
Solicitors must be satisfied their client has the capacity to give instructions and should undertake an assessment if in doubt. Failure to do so could place them at risk of sanctions.
The note says the level of capacity clients need depends on the nature of the transaction; for example considerations for making a gift are different than in conducting litigation. A series of case studies sets out practical examples.
It reminds solicitors’ that even if a client has the necessary mental capacity, they need to be alert to the possibility of the client being under undue influence.
Law Society president Andrew Caplen said: 'Vulnerable people face particular obstacles in accessing justice, including getting help from a solicitor. We have produced this important guidance to support our members and to help their clients to get the legal advice and tailored support that they need.'