In-House Lawyers – do you know your ethical code? Read on for a reminder…!
It is sometimes helpful to review the SRA Professional Conduct Rules, and we thought it would be helpful to provide a summary here. For the full Rules, see the SRA Principles 2011.
Conduct of solicitors (whether sole practitioners, in private practice, or in-house) is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. These Principles embody the key ethical requirements of which solicitors must have regard and are the starting point for their consideration of any ethical dilemma (SRA Principles – note 2.1).
It is important to remember that where two or more Principles come into conflict, the Principle which takes precedence is the one which best serves the public interest in the proper administration of justice (note 2.2).
The following mandatory Principles apply to in-house solicitors as to all solicitors (SRA Principles Part 1):
- Uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice
Obligations are owed not only to clients but also to the court and any third parties with whom that solicitor deals on the client’s behalf (note 2.5)
- Act with integrity
Personal integrity is central to a solicitor’s role as trusted adviser and should characterise all professional dealings with clients, the courts, other lawyers and the public (note 2.6)
- Not allow your independence to be compromised
Independence extends beyond the requirement to give independent advice to the client and includes your own independence. This can be a difficult balance for in-house lawyers where they are immersed in the business of the client (note 2.7)
- Act in the best interests of each client
acting in good faith, doing the best for your client, duty of confidentiality, avoiding conflicts of interest (note 2.8)
- Provide a proper standard of service to your clients
exercising competence, skill and diligence; taking into account the client’s needs and circumstances (note 2.9)
- Behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services
Members of the public should be able to place their trust in solicitors. Any behaviour either within or outside professional practice which undermines this trust damages not only individual solicitors, but also the ability of the legal profession as a whole to serve society (note 2.11)
- Comply with your legal and regulatory obligations and deal with your regulators and ombudsmen in an open, timely and co-operative manner
- Run your business or carry out your role in the business effectively and in accordance with proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles
- Run your business or carry out your role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity
All solicitors have a role to play in ensuring equality of opportunity and respect for diversity – and this can extend to behaviour outside of legal practice (note 2.14)
- Protect client money and assets.
This is central to the duty of acting in the best interest of your client (note 2.16)
For an in-house lawyer, these Principles can come into conflict. For example, pressure from one or more directors to protect money and assets at any cost could compromise your integrity, compliance with legal or regulatory obligations and/or the rule of law. In such cases, public interest and the proper administration of justice should take priority.