Question of ethics archive

Important: The guidance below was written and issued before the introduction of the SRA Handbook on 6 October 2011, and may refer to regulatory material that is no longer in effect. Although it may still be relevant, this guidance has not been rewritten in light of the wide-ranging regulatory changes implemented on 6 October 2011. Accordingly, it has been archived.

June 2009

Q. We are instructed by X & Co to provide general advice to its human resources department in relation to revising the company's staff handbook. We have also been asked to act for one of X & Co's former employees, A, in connection with bringing a claim against the company for unfair dismissal. Will our firm have a conflict of interests in agreeing to act for A?

No. The two matters are not directly related (see practice rule 3.01 for the definition of a conflict). If A succeeds in his claim against the company, that will obviously be prejudicial to the company, but not in relation to the particular retainer you have with the company. Similarly, whatever changes are made to the staff handbook will not have any impact on A's claim against the company.

It is a commercial and reputational decision for you as to whether you want to accept instructions to act against the company. You would also have to consider, as a separate issue, whether the firm would be putting confidentiality at risk through acting for both parties (see 4.03 for details of the duty not to put confidentiality at risk by acting).

Q. We act for Mr Jones in connection with his divorce and, quite separately, for Mr Taylor in connection with his divorce. The firm has just discovered that Mrs Jones is cohabiting with Mr Taylor (Mr Taylor played no part in the breakdown of Mr & Mrs Jones's marriage). Is there a conflict?

Yes. Although initially the two matters were unrelated, they have become related as a result of Mrs Jones moving in with Mr Taylor, because any financial settlement reached in either matter will clearly have an impact on the other. Your ability to act in the best interests of both is compromised and you need to consider whether you can continue to act for one client or whether both will need to instruct new firms (see rule 3.03 and 4.03)

Q. I am a young, impecunious solicitor and I have been asked to write an essay for a student to be used in his degree course. He has told me lots of students do it and has offered me £250. Can I do this? If I can't, can my friend who is a trainee solicitor?

No, this would be in breach of the core duties contained in rule 1, in particular 1.02 (Integrity) and 1.06 (Public Confidence), you would be at risk of disciplinary action for serious misconduct. A student or trainee solicitor, involved in such conduct, would risk being refused admission to the roll. Any solicitor who became aware of this conduct would be under a duty (rule 20.06) to report it to the SRA.

Q. I am a sole practitioner ?I have heard about "pass-porting" but do not know whether this affects me. What do I have to do? 

This query is dealt with fully in our Legal Services Act FAQs.