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Practice Note Issued on Duty to Vulnerable Clients

By Chloe Smith » The Law Society has reminded solicitors of the sanctions they could face if they fail to meet the needs of vulnerable clients. A practice note published last week aims to help solicitors adapt their practices to identify and meet the needs of clients who may be either mentally or physically disabled, lack mental capacity to make decisions, or are vulnerable due to undue influence or duress. It reminds solicitors that if they do not comply with principles on dealing with vulnerable clients they could face sanctions by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, complaints to the Legal Ombudsman, risks to their reputation and claims under the Equality Act 2010. They could also be liable for breach of warrant of authority and a claim for compensation against them or their firm if they have not ensured the client was capable of instructing them. The note says solicitors should identify whether their client has requirements for communicating or accessing services, over how services are provided, and if they need support to understand and act on advice. Solicitors must be satisfied their client has the capacity to give instructions, it says, and should undertake an assessment if in doubt. The note says the level of capacity clients need is dependent on the transactions; for example considerations for making a gift are different to those for conducting litigation. It reminds solicitors that even if a client has the necessary mental capacity, they need to be alert to the possibility of the client being under undue influence. Law Society research last year showed that nearly two-thirds of firms had provided legal services to vulnerable clients in the preceding 12 months. Society president Andrew Caplen said: ‘Vulnerable people face particular obstacles in accessing justice, including getting help from a solicitor. We have produced this important guidance to support our members and to help their clients to get the legal advice and tailored support that they need.’ [Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette]