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Surge in 'intimidatory tactics by big law firms' in disciplinary cases

Posted by: Laurence Simons 29/10/14

The number of disciplinary cases involving solicitors in the UK has risen sharply - while big firms seem to be increasingly willing to fight dirty. The actions of big law firms in aggressively fighting their corner in solicitors' disciplinary cases have been criticised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

According to the SRA, larger firms are often using tactics like complaining about staff or making freedom of information requests in a bid to stymie SRA action.

The body said this is not unusual in white collar cases, but added this was something it needed to guard against, "because of the resource implications, including the need not to be intimidated by respondents sometimes with more access to resource than the SRA, and the pressure upon staff".

All this sounds particularly tough, not least with the SRA also noting that disciplinary cases involving solicitors are being routinely fought by insurers with large budgets.

These "aggressive defensive tactics" are more common among the large firms because they have such resources at their disposal, the SRA noted, even though the majority of cases are still ones involving smaller practices.

However, for all that, one of the biggest areas of concern for the SRA is the sheer number of cases actually being fought. Its papers revealed the number of solicitor disciplinaries has jumped by 55 per cent this year. In the first eight months of 2014, 90 cases were opened, compared with 58 in the same period in 2013. As a result, by the end of August, no fewer than 189 cases were in progress.

The reasons for this surge are not clear, although the authority will seek to find out if there is a particular reason, or whether it is simply a blip.

All in all, it adds up to a pretty stressful time for the body. Having an unusually high number of cases to handle to begin with is bad enough, but if many of them are being fought against firms keen to avoid reputational damage and with a hefty budget to spend on the legal and regulatory equivalent of trench warfare, there is no doubt these are challenging times.