Are you acting in your clients’ best interests?

We open up the next section of the SRA Risk Outlook 2016 – acting with independence and integrity.

Clarity and communication are two fundamental parts of a conveyancer being wholly independent and having integrity. These are, however, some of the biggest areas for concern within the conveyancing profession – particularly as you are having to rely on a number of third party sources for information throughout the transaction and unforeseen issues could occur at any point.

As a legal professional, it’s your duty to act with correct conduct to maintain sturdy public confidence, as stated in the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Risk Outlook 2016. In such a heavily regulated sector, it can be difficult to maintain a balance between acting in the client’s best interest and doing what is considered “best practice”. If you were faced with a difficult situation where the client is making demands which go against codes of conduct – how would you handle this?

Independence and integrity – overview

A leaf can certainly be taken from many small conveyancing firms’ books, as one of their key selling points is that they are local, knowledgeable experts who build close relationships with their clients and local community. This mindset gives consumers confidence that the person acting for them truly knows their clients’ needs and will have a good understanding of the localised land and property concerns.

With a reported 23% of all complaints to the Legal Ombudsman in 2015 being related to conveyancing, acting within the best interest of clients is a serious concern within the profession.

The SRA say that many solicitors consider the Compliance Officer for Legal Professionals (COLP) as solely responsible for a firm’s adherence to regulation and maintenance of professional values. They do stress, however, that it is important for every legal professional to act with independence and integrity in line with the SRA Principles 2011.

Independence and integrity – actions

Inform and educate. It may seem simple, but clients will always feel more reassured if they fully understand what is happening. Even before any work takes place, the initial letter should be welcoming as well as informative. Throughout the transaction, it’s good practice to keep the client up to date throughout, even if there is nothing to report – checking in will put their mind at ease. Furthermore, if clients understand why actions need to be taken or that some unforeseen circumstances may be out of your control, it will make it far simpler to explain and for them to understand without getting frustrated, while limiting the element of surprise.

Know your community. As well as being knowledgeable on the local environment, in order to instil confidence and stand out as independent and trustworthy professionals, you may consider getting involved in community events or business networking. Showing that you are more than just another conveyancing firm, which many find somewhat daunting, can boost reputation.

Be compliant, while doing best for your client. This is one of the key fundamentals of the SRA Principles which states that as a legal professional you must not allow your independence to be compromised and act in the best interest of your client, while upholding the rule of law. Not only does this mean acting with integrity towards your client, but also the solicitor on the other side as well as any other third parties. Being clear and honest across the board will ensure the reduction of mishaps and delays.

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