Ensure you are providing vulnerable clients with the right level of service

The Law Society has published guidance for solicitors to help them meet the needs of vulnerable clients. This includes clients with a range of physical and learning disabilities, and mental health problems.

The Law Society practice note issued on 2nd July provides a comprehensive summary for solicitors aimed at dealing with vulnerable clientele and has been issued in response to calls for support from law firms and other significant partners, including Mencap.

Using case scenarios, the guidance aims to help solicitors:

  • identify vulnerable clients and their needs at an early stage
  • communicate with them more effectively
  • work with third parties, including advocates and carers
  • help clients to achieve the best possible legal outcomes

The guidance uses the term ‘vulnerable’ to describe a range of situations which could place a client at a disadvantage in accessing legal services, and focuses on:

  • clients who have capacity to make decisions and provide instructions, but who require support to use a solicitor’s services and give instructions
  • clients who lack mental capacity to make decisions for whom a range of statutory and other safeguards must be followed

Law Society research at the end of 2014 showed that nearly two-thirds of firms (59%) had provided legal services to vulnerable clients in the preceding 12 months. Those solicitors working with vulnerable clients in that period described one in five (21%) of their clients as vulnerable.

If you fail to meet the needs of a vulnerable client you could be at risk of the following:

  • A claim for damages or compensation against you or your firm if you act on the instructions of a client lacking capacity to make relevant decisions, having failed to satisfy yourself as to the client’s capacity to instruct you or failing to document your assessment of the client’s capacity, leaving the validity of the transaction open to challenge.
  • A complaint against you to the Legal Ombudsman, which could result in your name being published and/or you having to pay financial compensation. The ombudsman will refer complaints about discrimination to the SRA.
  • Reputational risk – your practice’s reputation is inextricably linked to the way in which you treat your clients. Conversely, a practice with an inclusive ethos will not only attract a wider group of clients but also a more diverse workforce bringing benefits to the business.

The full practice note is a recommended read for any qualified solicitor and should be read in conjunction with the solicitors’ Code of Conduct.

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