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Ethics

  • A solicitor's commitment to behaving ethically is at the heart of what it means to be a solicitor. The Law Society supports solicitors in recognising and handling difficult professional situations and making choices which can be substantiated by reference to the SRA Code of Conduct.

    • Ethics involves making a commitment to acting with integrity and honesty in accordance with widely recognised moral principles.
    • Ethics will guide a professional towards an appropriate way to behave in relation to moral dilemmas that arise in practice.
    • Ethics is based on the principles of serving the interests of consumers of legal services and of acting in the interests of the administration of justice, in which, in the event of a conflict, acting in the interests of the administration of justice prevails.

    Featured video: Professional Ethics under Pressure

    Can lawyers be competitive and act ethically? How do individuals and firms strike a balance between rule of law and reputation? A panel of experts discuss these issues and more. Watch the highlights from a panel event, May 2017, here or view on Youtube.

    SRA Code of Conduct: the principles

    Making a commitment to acting ethically is intrinsically linked with meeting the standards and requirements set out in the SRA Code of Conduct. These standards stem from the 10 mandatory principles. The principles apply to all solicitors and underpin all aspects of practice. [Read more about the principles]

    The code says:

    "They define the fundamental ethical and professional standards that we expect of all firms and individuals (including owners who may not be lawyers) when providing legal services. You should always have regard to the principles and use them as your starting point when faced with an ethical dilemma."

    You must:

    • uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice
    • act with integrity
    • not allow your independence to be compromised
    • act in the best interests of each client
    • provide a proper standard of service to your clients
    • behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services
    • comply with your legal and regulatory obligations and deal with your regulators and ombudsmen in an open, timely and co-operative manner
    • run your business or carry out your role in the business effectively and in accordance with proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles
    • run your business or carry out your role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity, and
    • protect client money and assets.

    For advice on ethical issues, call the SRA professional ethics helpline on 0370 606 2577.

  • Ethical scenarios

    Ethical scenarioThe Law Society is creating a suite of interactive ethical scenarios featuring Ethel, our ethical guru, who guides users though the ethical issues associated with dilemmas solicitors might face in practice.

    After completing the scenarios, please tell us what you think by filling in the short feedback survey.

    1. Conflicts of interest

    A solicitor finds herself in a position of potential conflict. Can she represent two clients in the same matter?

    There are lessons to be learned about identifying conflicts at an early stage, ensuring good communications with clients and taking steps to alleviate problems further down the line.

    2. Confidentiality

    A solicitor must consider his duties of confidentiality and disclosure in a complicated set of circumstances.

    3. Speaking up as a junior lawyer

    A junior solicitor finds herself in a difficult situation when she discovers potential misconduct by her training principal and supervisor. What exactly should she do next, bearing in mind that he is responsible for signing off her training contract?

    4. Client pressure

    A solicitor is put under pressure by a large commercial client to change the firm’s usual terms of engagement. The situation becomes more complicated when the solicitor represents the client in a Competition and Markets Authority investigation for price fixing.

    5. Change of plea in a criminal trial

    In a criminal trial a solicitor is representing a client on two burglary charges, both of which involve preying on elderly people. The scenario explores the ethical dilemma caused by the client wishing to change his guilty plea. As with all of the scenarios, a range of factors causes the situation to become increasingly complicated.

    Please note: if you're not a member of our free Professional Development Centre, you will need to register. It only takes two minutes and you'll be taken straight to the scenario afterwards.

    The Ethics Project

    This Law Society project aimed to gather material to inform our policy in supporting and promoting a culture of ethics within the profession.

    This work reflects the increasing interest in ethics within both the profession and the regulatory climate, and dovetails with the Law Society's corporate strategy. The project comprised several workstreams, including an interview programme and an online survey.

    Interview programme

    The Law Society conducted interviews with solicitors, academics and other professionals on the subject of ethics. Areas for discussion included the values and practices that separate solicitors from other professions, and, in turn, from other practitioners working within the legal sector. We asked questions such as:

    • Do you think clients are willing to pay more for a solicitor's services because they recognise the high ethical standards?
    • Is competition in the legal services market putting solicitors' ethical standards at risk?
    • Where do you feel the biggest gaps are in solicitors' training and/or practice with regards ethical training?

    Ethics survey

    In conjunction with our interview programme, we gauged views on solicitors' ethics from members of the profession and the public. The online survey was completed by 350 individuals and covered:

    • perceptions of solicitors' ethics
    • pressures that may influence ethical behaviour
    • training and support on acting ethically

    Some key findings from the ethics project included:

    • 99 per cent of survey participants believed the level of ethical behaviour required of a solicitor is something that sets them apart from the general public, and 83 per cent considered it sets them apart from other competitors in the legal market.
    • 98 per cent noted that there is a place and a need for ethics in the current climate in which solicitors operate.
    • There should be greater emphasis placed on ethics during legal education and continuing competence training.
    • There is a role for firms in ensuring awareness of ethical responsibilities for solicitors working in their firms, and firms should foster cultures which promote good ethical decision making.
    • The Law Society could take a more proactive role in embedding an ethical culture within the profession, such as:
      • creating relevant online resources including webinars, interactive scenarios and Professional Development Centre courses
      • running events, debates and workshops on ethics.

    The results of the project are already informing the Law Society's consideration of future work in this important area. Indeed, the launch of interactive ethical scenarios stems from the project's findings.

    Publications, research and further reading

    The following represent some of the most important papers and research on legal ethics:

    The SRA and ethics

    The SRA's A Question of Trust programme aims to improve the clarity of its standards and transparency about what action the SRA will take if standards are not met. It aims to improve the consistency of its decision-making on this subject by producing a guiding framework for use by SRA staff. The framework will show the relative seriousness of common breaches of the Code of Conduct.

    Before developing the framework, the SRA sought the profession's views via a survey which asked practising solicitors to consider scenarios describing breaches of the code, and to assess their seriousness.

    The results of the survey as well as responses to its formal consultation which closed on 31 January 2016, will inform the framework.

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