Is the tide changing for junior lawyers

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Is the tide changing for junior lawyers

Published 14 December 2020

Just over a year ago we commented on the Court’s decision in the cases of SRA v James, Naylor and MacGregor.

We said at the time that we predicted that the effect of this decision was that any young lawyer who committed an act of dishonesty would almost certainly be struck off no matter what the mitigating circumstances.

James and Naylor had created false documents and Macgregor had concealed the misconduct of a colleague. What they all had in common was an argument that their misconduct had arisen as a result of an allegedly toxic work environment that had led to inordinate stress and in some cases mental health issues.

The Court overturned the SDT’s decision to suspend the three young solicitors and struck them all off describing dishonesty as a “red line” issue.

The SRA welcomed this decision as providing clarity in relation to the approach to dishonesty and the case was followed by the successful prosecutions of Laura Holloway and Emily Scott both of whom were struck off for dishonesty.

Even Scott who had eventually found the courage to blow the whistle on her former firm received no leniency and the Tribunal criticised her for delay in reporting her supervisor’s misconduct finding that she had preferred her own interests (in keeping her job and not prejudicing her mother’s position as she also worked at the firm) to those of the affected clients.

These cases led the JLD to petition the SRA and to raise awareness of the stress that young solicitors often suffer. There are reports that suggest that 48% of solicitors suffer mental health issues compared with a population average of 25%.

Raising awareness of these issues appears to be having an effect and there does seem to have been a sea change in the context of some of the cases reported more recently. In the case of the trainee, Michelle Craven, for example, the Tribunal imposed no sanction following a prosecution in which the SRA successfully established that she had charged for work that she had not actually done. This more lenient approach, which was founded in the SDT’s recognition that Craven was “overwhelmed” by work has been mirrored in several other recent decisions and the JLD will be hoping that the SRA will start to offer practical support to those who find themselves in difficulty particularly as the risk if they do not is that young lawyers will be too afraid to speak out and that their health as well as their careers will be adversely affected.

Senior members of the profession are unlikely to be shown the same leniency, however, and the SRA has made it clear that they will be looking closely at firms who fail to supervise their trainees and young solicitors.

Authors

Clare Hughes-Williams

Clare Hughes-Williams

Newport

+ 44 (0)1633 657685

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