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Junior Lawyers Division hits out at SRA for lack of protection

The Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society has written to the Solicitors Regulation Authority to express concern that the most vulnerable members of the profession, by their role and experience, are not being adequately protected by the SRA’s approach to enforcement “or by any practical measures”.

The letter specifically raises recent decisions of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal relating to two junior lawyers:

  • Sovani James: “struck off for backdating letters despite strong evidence to support that she was suffering from mental ill-health, had been subjected to bullying and oppressive management”;
  • Emily Scott: “struck off as a trainee solicitor for breaching the SRA Code of Conduct following whistleblowing on her seniors despite the SDT finding that she had been bullied and pressured by those seniors”.

The JLD said the revised SRA Enforcement Policy announced in February appeared not to have addressed its well documented concerns.

While reserving its opinion on the outcome of both proceedings, the letter also pointed the SRA to its Resilience and Wellbeing Survey Report 2018 which identified that 90% of respondents had experienced stress in their role, with 26% of those respondents experiencing severe/extreme levels of stress.

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The survey also highlighted:

  • 67.3% of respondents felt that a high workload was the cause of their stress;
  • 42.8% of respondents felt that ineffective management was the cause of their stress; and
  • 45.0% of respondents felt that a lack of support was the cause of their stress.

The letter called on the SRA to set out:

  1. What practical support and measures the regulator has in place for junior lawyers who are facing difficulties in raising their concerns in the workplace;
  2. What the SRA is doing to ensure that organisations employing junior solicitors are being supportive and that these organisations do not have ‘toxic’ cultures in which junior lawyers feel unable to raise concerns or ask for help.

“The JLD would welcome the SRA taking action against organisations that do not provide healthy working environments for their junior lawyers and in which junior lawyers do not feel confident in raising concerns without reprisals,” the letter said.

The JLD said it would be keen to discuss the issues raised further with the SRA and how best the regulator might “approach such matters in terms of developing practical support and measures which junior lawyers can have confidence in”.

It added: “We would also point that sanctions such as in the case of Ms James and Ms Scott are likely to deter individuals, particularly junior lawyers who are the most vulnerable in our profession, to disclose wrongdoing (either by their employer or themselves) for fear that they will be struck off, landed with a heavy costs order and receive negative publicity.”

An SRA spokesperson said: “We take these issues very seriously. We will be responding to the Junior Lawyers Division addressing the concerns they’ve raised.”

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