Solicitors Regulation Authority publishes thematic review on in-house solicitors
Survey finds that most in-house solicitors feel their independence is valued
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) published its latest thematic report on in-house solicitors on 14 March, which finds that some in-house teams would benefit from having formal policies and controls in place to guard against organisational pressure being exerted to compromise regulatory obligations in order to meet organisation priorities.
The thematic report is based on a review of the SRA’s in-house population in order to identify the main issues currently affecting the sector. More specifically, the findings are based on a survey of over 1,200 in-house lawyers and 20 detailed interviews with solicitors working in public and private sector organisations. The SRA’s last survey of in-house solicitors was in 2014.
Amongst the key findings, the report states that most solicitors working in-house feel their independence is valued, with a minority struggling to balance their duties with the firm’s priorities; most respondents felt comfortable advising their employer that they could not take an unethical action; and the majority of those surveyed said they were confident that pressure from their organisation would not affect their ability to provide objective and impartial advice, and that they could act ethically under pressure.
Conversely, five per cent of respondents said that they had experienced pressure from their organisation to suppress or ignore information that conflicted with their regulatory obligations. Moreover, ten per cent said their regulatory obligations had been compromised when trying to meet organisational priorities, which was frequently linked to workload challenges.
The review also found that not all in-house solicitors are able to keep their skills and knowledge up to date, with one in ten saying they did not have enough time. Additionally, a quarter of junior solicitors had not received on-the-job training on professionalism, ethics and judgement.
The SRA is due to publish new guidance for the in-house community to ensure that high standards are being maintained. The SRA will also be launching dedicated online resources and organising events to share best practice, in order to continue to gather feedback on areas where further support is needed from the regulator.
Commenting on the review, Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said: “The in-house sector continues to grow, with 8,000 more in-house solicitors than a decade ago. They now make up around a fifth of practising solicitors. The findings of this review are generally encouraging – most in-house solicitors appear to be able to serve their employers well while still upholding the high standards expected of them. Yet a minority struggle. We heard frequently that heavy workloads were a significant challenge. That is a problem if it means some in-house solicitors struggle to commit appropriate time to training or careful consideration of key decisions. In addition to the best practice highlighted in this report, we will be doing a range of work to further support in-house solicitors to make sure they – and their employers – understand their professional obligations.”