Thursday, 14 February 2019

‘Not adequately protected’: Junior lawyers demand SRA response on concerns over toxic working conditions

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‘Not adequately protected’: Junior lawyers demand SRA response on concerns over toxic working conditions

Junior lawyers have penned a letter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) demanding clarification on the protection available to junior lawyers who are subject to ‘toxic’ work environments.

The letter, published yesterday (13 February) by the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), cited concerns around rulings from the High Court and Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that struck off junior solicitors who were subsequently found to be working under difficult conditions.

The author of the letter to the SRA is JLD chair Amy Clowrey, who has asked the SRA to outline the practical support given to junior lawyers who face difficulties in the workplace and what the SRA is doing to combat toxic work atmospheres at organisations employing juniors. However, firms question what action the SRA could take on the matter.

Allen & Overy general counsel Andrew Clark told Legal Business: ‘The SRA’s approach is welcome. We have our own code of conduct and policies and as a large firm these are behaviours that our clients also want to audit. I would expect these to be in line with regulations issued by the SRA on behaviours.’

The letter from the JLD specifically looks to address the fallout from the cases of junior lawyers Sovani James, a former lawyer with south east firm McMillan Williams and Emily Scott, of the now closed firm De Vita Platt. James was barred from the profession after the High Court overturned the SDT’s initial decision to impose a suspended suspension following James backdating four letters to make it appear as if she had progressed a clinical negligence case.

Scott meanwhile was struck off after blowing the whistle on firm misconduct, while claiming she was acting under instruction following involvement in false billing, misappropriated client funds and misleading of regulators. Both James and Scott have claimed to have been subject to toxic work environments.

‘Our primary concern is the most vulnerable lawyers in our profession, by their role and experience, are not currently being adequately protected by the SRA’s approach to enforcement or by any practical measures,’ Clowrey wrote. ‘Sanctions [similar to James’s and Scott’s] are likely to deter individuals, particularly junior lawyers who are the most vulnerable in our profession, to disclose wrongdoing (either by their employer or by themselves) for fear that they will be struck off, landed with a heavy costs order and receive negative publicity.’

thomas.alan@legalbusiness.co.uk