Friday, December 02, 2011

In Practice: Personal tragedies

I was going to write about something else in this week's In Practice post, but then I read the list of SRA interventions in the Gazette yesterday, and noticed that one of the firms mentioned was local and (in my previous life as a practising solicitor) well known to me. The firm had been practising, in one guise or another, for as long as I can remember. The principal has been suspended from practice for an indefinite period. I did not know him very well, but I knew others who worked for the firm.

This is not the first time that a firm or solicitor I know of has fallen foul of the profession's regulators, but it still comes as something of a shock to see a name you know appearing in the 'wrong place' in the Gazette. The report says that the grounds for intervention included failure to comply with both the Accounts Rules and the Code of Conduct, but otherwise I have no idea of the detailed reasons for the intervention. The firm (to my knowledge) used to be perfectly respectable.

This got me thinking: what goes wrong when a previously reputable firm finds itself in such a position? I'm not talking of what they did wrong, but why they did it. I don't know whether any research has ever been done into this, but here are some of my thoughts.

In the present economic climate, money problems must come high on the list of possible factors. Things are extremely hard out there, particularly for small high street firms which were once dependent on conveyancing for the bulk of their income. I can imagine how easy it must be for money worries to escalate, and for a 'head in the sand' mentality to take over, with creditors unpaid and essential practice tasks being left undone. There must also be a temptation to 'resolve' problems by breaking the rules, for example using clients' money.

Another possibility is that personal problems could be the cause - perhaps relationship problems, or health problems. In a small firm with little support, or especially with sole practitioners, such issues could easily have a serious adverse effect upon the practice. Consciously or not, practitioners might quite understandably take the view that their own welfare is more important than that of the firm.

The last possibility that springs to mind is, of course, criminal intent. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous practitioners may set out with the intent to defraud, usually for monetary gain. Obviously, such people deserve no sympathy, and if the regulators catch up with them, then that is to the good of all others.

Leaving that last category aside however, many of the rules transgressions must hide stories of personal tragedies, of differing scales. I wonder whether more could be done to prevent them.

2 comments:

  1. I fear that I must have led professional life in rather seedier areas than you. It has depressed me how frequently I have seen names I recognise and I too saw a name I knew this week. I do wonder whether the over representation of sole practitioners and very small partnerships is reflective of the possibility that many of those who fall foul of the rules are people who were rejected by more substantial practices because they simply could not be brought up to a sufficient standard of competence.

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  2. I don't know - the areas in which I practised were pretty seedy!

    Seriously, you may have a point, although I certainly don't want to get into sole practitioner-bashing.

    ReplyDelete

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