Jessica Clay reviews the latest edition of The Solicitors Handbook 2022 (Law Society, 2021, £100) by Gregory Treverton-Jones QC, Nigel West, Susanna Heley and Robert Forman 

Jessica Clay

Following on from the September 2019 edition, The Solicitor’s Handbook 2022 remains an extensive and comprehensive text, providing insightful analysis and commentary in respect of regulatory and practice-related issues affecting solicitors and those working within law firms.

Adopting the same user-friendly layout and structure as the previous edition, it comprises eight parts, as follows:

  • Part 1 - An overview of the regulatory and disciplinary landscape and the regulation and authorisation of entities.
  • Part 2 - The SRA Principles and SRA Codes of Conduct including an analysis of what constitutes professional misconduct and regulatory reach in respect of public and private life, with references to the SRA enforcement strategy and the landmark decision in the case of Beckwith v SRA.
  • Part 3 - The other rules and regulations which make up the SRA Standards and Regulations, including an analysis of the SRA Accounts Rules; the role of compliance officers as set out in the SRA Authorisation of Firms Rules and the SRA Code of Conduct for Firms; professional indemnity insurance requirements; and the role of registered European and registered foreign lawyers and the impact of Brexit.
  • Part 4 – An overview of the regulatory system in practice, with chapters providing essential information about the role of the Legal Ombudsman; how SRA investigations work; practising certificate controls and removal from the roll; intervention into practice and orderly closure; and how the SRA regulates non-solicitor employees and consultants.
  • Part 5 – An extensive look at the disciplinary system in practice, with chapters addressing what constitutes professional misconduct, its forms and formulation; SRA imposed sanctions, with helpful examples and guidance providing invaluable context; proceedings before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) and their stages; and the role and jurisdiction of the High Court within the disciplinary framework.
  • Part 6 – An overview of alternative business structures (ABSs), first explaining the necessary steps of authorisation and then the disciplinary and enforcement processes which apply to them.
  • Part 7 – An explanation of the risks posed to solicitors and law firms by fraud and money laundering and an introduction to data protection, with a focus on its interaction with confidentiality, and privilege.
  • Part 8 – The Appendices comprise the full text of the SRA Standards and Regulations and associated guidance, as well as extracts from legislation relevant to the legal services regulatory framework.

The updated edition also addresses many of the major legal services regulatory developments which have taken place since the implementation of the Standards and Regulations in November 2019, reflecting the numerous pieces of guidance which the SRA has subsequently issued.

These developments include the SRA’s handling of allegations of sexual misconduct and the investigation of any potential misconduct which might cross the boundary between professional and private life, with specific analysis provided in relation to the case of Beckwith v SRA.

There is also a useful update on the giving of undertakings following the significant findings in Harcus Sinclair v Your Lawyers, and key updates from the SRA in relation to anti-money laundering (AML) initiatives and the improper use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

The authors, all experts in this field, have provided valuable insight throughout this book and that, coupled with detailed explanations most certainly helps the reader to understand the key obligations imposed on them and navigate what can be seen as a complex regulatory framework.

The structure is intuitive and user-friendly, and the Contents and Index sections are extremely clear, all resulting in this being an essential read and a publication which all firms should have.

By way of a post-script, it is worth noting that owing to the dynamic nature of regulation in any field, it is always unavoidable that additional developments may transpire following the date of publication, which could not have been foreseeable. Readers of this text might therefore wish to bear in mind that several post-publication developments are not captured, purely because they took place after the Solicitor’s Handbook 2022 was published in December 2021.

These include the SRA’s consultation, launched on 4 March 2022, to add new standards to the Codes of Conduct in respect of, first, imposing an explicit obligation on individuals and firms to treat colleagues with fairness and respect and not to bully, harass or unfairly discriminate against them and second, requiring them to challenge behaviour which does not meet this standard.

The consultation also seeks views on proposed changes to the SRA Assessment of Character and Suitability Rules and Authorisation of Individuals Regulations, in respect of what fitness to practise means. These changes aim to make clear that health grounds need to be considered when assessing suitability to practise.

Notably, these changes, if approved by the Legal Services Board, are unlikely to come into effect before the end of 2022, at the earliest, so they are very much evolving at the date of this review.

Another development to have occurred post-publication concerns the SRA’s decision to close the case of Matthews which demonstrates the importance of considering mental health when investigating allegations of the most serious types of misconduct.

The SRA’s increased focus on workplace culture and the importance of wellbeing has unquestionably risen to the foreground and is likely to continue to remain in the SRA’s spotlight into the immediate future.

The Solicitors Handbook 2022 (Law Society, 2021, £100) by Gregory Treverton-Jones QC, Nigel West, Susanna Heley and Robert Forman (Law Society Publishing, £100).

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