The Solicitors Regulation Authority has warned solicitors to take care to make sure that communication “is always professional, lawful and does not cause offence”.
The watchdog said it had issued the warning notice – reminding the profession of its responsibilities when sending emails or letters, and when using social media – following an increase in reports of solicitors falling below the standards expected of them.
The SRA highlighted how online comments posted in a personal capacity and which might be deemed offensive or inappropriate could be classed as misconduct if the poster can be identified as a solicitor.
Recent cases involving offensive communication have included:
- Facebook comments made by a solicitor leading to a £25,000 fine from the SDT, after he admitted they were "offensive" and "wholly inappropriate".
- Late-night tweets by a solicitor leading to a rebuke because of the offence they caused.
- Three solicitors at a firm being fined a total of £14,000 and being liable for more than £7,000 of costs after exchanging offensive emails about a colleague.
- A solicitor being fined £15,000 for emailing a client using language the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said was "despicable".
Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said: "We expect solicitors to act at all times with integrity, including on social media and when commenting in what may seem to be a personal capacity. Public confidence in the profession is undermined by offensive or inappropriate communication and the misuse of social media can be a real problem.
“But this is also about communication within an office or to clients. Solicitors cannot justify their conduct by saying that the communication was private, or they did not intend to cause offence, or that recipients were not offended. There is a risk that if you send an email which has the potential to cause offence and that email subsequently comes to light, we might take action.”
The warning notice reminds solicitors not only of the need to uphold the rule of law and proper administration of justice, and to act with integrity, but also to act in a way that maintains the trust the public places in the profession.