Due to a significant increase in the number of complaints the SRA has received concerning inappropriate communication via email and social media, a warning notice has been issued to those within the scope of the SRA. This notice provides warning and guidance on the types of behaviour that has been reported and in some cases resulted in disciplinary action.
From this guidance, litigants and McKenzie Friends should ensure they take the time to read and understand the expectation of professionalism from solicitors and bodies the SRA regulate. Below, we have highlighted the main points that litigants and McKenzie Friends should consider when SRA regulated firms or individuals are communicating with you.
A number of complaints have been made to the SRA concerning communications of an unprofessional nature; this includes behaviour inside and outside of practice in emails and on social media. It has been clearly stated that communication of, but not limited to, an abusive, offensive, pejorative or threatening nature, including comments to harass or victimise is wholly inappropriate. This behaviour does not comply with the SRA Principles to Act with integrity; behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in solicitors and in the provision of legal services, and to carry out your role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity.
The guidance also provides the following in regards to “Communications with other law firms and litigants in person”:
It is not uncommon for emails between law firms in relation to a client’s matter to be robust, particularly in litigation. However, you should ensure such communications do not cross the line by using inflammatory language or being gratuitously offensive, either to the other side or about their client.
Your role is to act in the client’s best interests; antagonising the other side is unlikely to achieve this. You should remain objective and not allow the matter to become personal, regardless of the provocation or your client’s instructions. You are not your client’s ‘hired gun’ and you may be at risk under Principle 3 if you allow your independence to be compromised by being drawn into using offensive language or making offensive comments in order to meet your client’s expectations.
It is equally important to remain professional when dealing with an individual who is representing him or herself or has appointed a McKenzie Friend. In a recent decision, the SDT fined a solicitor for his heated and abusive exchange of emails with a litigant in person, calling this ‘completely unacceptable’. The SDT said it was the solicitor’s responsibility to maintain his professionalism regardless of what that person may have done.
You should also be aware that should the individual publishing offensive material be a solicitor, Principles 1, 2 and 6 of the SRA Code of Conduct continue to apply outside of practice including in other business capacities or in their personal lives. As this is the main area the SRA is receiving complaints of unprofessional communications, it should be noted that litigants or McKenzie Friends that are victim to such behaviour can still raise a complaint to the SRA for failing to comply with the abovementioned notice and the applicable Principles.
It should also be considered that the McKenzie Friends Marketplace requires its own members to “remain professional, supportive, helpful and act with integrity towards clients and through your membership”.
MFM Code of Conduct: https://mckenziemarketplace.co.uk/cocpage