How you can support the needs of vulnerable clients

Solicitors needs to be able to identify and meet the needs of vulnerable clients. Heledd Wyn and Fiona Heald explore some of the common issues you might come across, ahead of their in-depth look at the topic at our Private Client Annual Conference on 23 May.
A lawyer sits opposites two older clients and smiles at them.
Photograph: fizkes

As lawyers, we play a crucial role in advocating for the rights and interests of all individuals, including those who are vulnerable.

Vulnerability can be due to age, mental health, or cognitive impairment, and does not simply relate to those who are injured or unwell.

So, what are some of the issues encountered by vulnerable clients?

1. Capacity and decision-making

One of the biggest challenges when working with vulnerable clients is assessing their mental capacity to make informed decisions.

Lawyers often encounter situations where clients may lack the capacity to fully comprehend complex legal matters. This raises ethical concerns about obtaining valid instructions and ensuring that the client’s best interests are safeguarded.

The Law Society has specific guidance on this, which provides practical steps for practitioners to assess and determine a client’s capacity to make specific decisions, promoting a structured and consistent approach.

2. Undue influence and coercion

Vulnerable clients are more susceptible to undue influence from family members, caregivers, or others in positions of authority.

Lawyers must remain vigilant to identify signs of undue influence and take steps to ensure that the client’s wishes are genuinely reflective of their own intentions.

This is especially important where there are powers of attorney in place – make sure you understand who is giving the instructions.

If the donor retains capacity, they must give instructions directly or authorise their attorneys to act on their behalf. If they lack capacity, it is good practice to have a report confirming the donor lacks capacity to manage their affairs.

To address the risk of undue influence, you should be vigilant and proactive in identifying signs of coercion or exploitation.

The Law Society’s guidance on vulnerable clients emphasises the importance of maintaining independence and taking appropriate steps, such as seeking external advice or involving protective measures, to mitigate the risk.

3. Communication barriers and access to legal service

Vulnerable clients often encounter barriers in accessing legal services, such as physical or financial constraints. These barriers may limit their ability to seek legal advice and representation.

Using a video call service such as Teams or Zoom can make things a great deal more accessible.

When communicating, they may also face difficulties in expressing themselves or understanding legal terminology. Communication barriers can arise due to:

  • traumatic life events
  • language issues
  • cognitive impairment, or
  • sensory disabilities

Lawyers can assist by offering to adopt effective communication strategies, such as using plain language, providing visual aids, or using interpreters where appropriate, to facilitate meaningful engagement with clients.

The Law Society’s guidance offers additional suggestions and approaches to remove communication barriers.

There should also be consideration of wider accessibility issues, such as physical barriers, and being mindful of the financial implications for clients.

4. Safeguarding against financial exploitation

Financial exploitation is a significant concern for vulnerable clients, particularly in matters related to wills, trusts, attorneyship and property transactions.

Lawyers must implement robust safeguards to protect vulnerable clients from potential abuse, including conducting due diligence on financial transactions and involving third-party professionals when necessary.

To support this, it is important to maintain thorough record-keeping to document interactions with vulnerable clients.


Lawyers play a pivotal role in championing the rights and interests of vulnerable clients.

By understanding and addressing the unique challenges faced by this demographic, legal professionals can contribute to a more inclusive and equitable legal system.

Private Client Annual Conference

Our 2024 Private Client Annual Conference on Thursday 23 May will provide you with the very latest thinking on private client work.

Attend for key updates and practical advice given by industry experts on topics such as vulnerable clients, will drafting and dealing with executor disputes.

Private Client Solicitors Section members enjoy a discounted rate.

Book your place

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