What is The Solicitors’ Code of Conduct?
Solicitors must comply with the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct. This is a set of rules and regulations on the standard of professional conduct expected of solicitors in England & Wales, registered European lawyers, registered foreign lawyers and other recognised bodies.
The rules reflect the ‘outcomes focused’ regulation of solicitors and give guidance on solicitors’ professional standards expected when carrying out their duty of care to their clients. The focus is on positive outcomes for clients. In other words, the client’s interests and needs are central.
Failure by your solicitor to follow those rules can lead to them being disciplined. If you suffer loss as a result of a rule breach by your solicitor, you may be able to make a claim against him or her. You can also complain to the Legal Ombudsman.
The 10 Principles of the Code
The Code is part of the solicitors’ regulator’s Handbook which sets out 10 mandatory Principles which pervade the entirety of the Code. These 10 Principles are that solicitors must:
- Uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice
- Act with integrity
- Not allow their independence to be compromised
- Act in the best interests of each client
- Provide a proper standard of service to clients
- Behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in them and in the provision of legal services
- Comply with their legal and regulatory obligations and deal with the regulators and ombudsmen in an open, timely and co-operative manner
- Run their business or carry out their role in the business effectively, in accordance with proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles
- Run their business or carry out their role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity, and
- Protect client money and assets
In any circumstance where a conflict between two or more Principles conflict, the Principle which takes precedence is that which best serves the public interest in the proper administration of justice in those particular circumstances.
What is covered by the Code?
The Code is in five parts covering various issues. We focus here on the Code as it relates specifically to clients.
The most notable part in relation to clients is Part 1, ‘You and your client’ which covers fundamental guidance on providing clients with a proper standard of service including how the legal services are to be delivered, fees and costs, and so on. Solicitors are guided towards achieving specific outcomes including treating clients fairly, protecting clients’ interests, providing a competent service that is delivered in a timely manner, and takes into account clients’ needs and circumstances, and matters relating to costs and fee arrangements.
Client care matters
At the outset of the matter, your solicitor is required to set out specific information before starting work on your behalf. This puts you in a strong position as you will have the necessary information and transparency about how the matter will be handled. The information your solicitor must provide you with includes:
- agreeing an appropriate level of service with you, for instance, the type and frequency of communications
- explaining your responsibilities and your solicitors
- the name and status of the person dealing with the matter, and that of the person will overall supervision of the matter
- explaining any relevant fee sharing or referral arrangements, or similar
- explaining any limitations or conditions on what your solicitor can do for you
- if your solicitor has to stop acting for you, they must explain possible alternative options
There is a lot of information your solicitor must provide you with when you first instruct him or her. For this reason, there is typically a lot of paperwork at the beginning, but this is necessary both for your sake and your solicitor’s.
The Code also sets out that solicitors must inform clients at the outset of important client matters including their right to complain, and how they can do this. Client complaints must be dealt with promptly, fairly, openly and effectively. As a client, you must be told of your right to challenge or complain about a bill received, and when you are liable to pay interest on unpaid bills.
The solicitors’ firm complaints procedure must be available to you on request and they cannot charge you for handling client complaints. If you ever have to make a complaint, your solicitor must provide you with all necessary information concerning the handling of it.
Other issues covered
The Code also covers further client-related matters including equality and diversity, and the duties of solicitors towards clients and the court in the context of litigation and advocacy.