In 1974 the Law Society published a slim volume entitled “A guide to the professional conduct of solicitors.” Over a few hundred pages of elegant text, the guide described the core conduct principles applicable to solicitors, ranging from the profound “Do unto others as you would they should do unto you”, to the trivial “A solicitor’s nameplate…should be of reasonable proportions.”
Yesterday marked the publication of the SRA Handbook. At 574 pages, it is rather longer than the 1974 guide. Solicitors now face a complex hierarchy of core Principles, mandatory Outcomes and Indicative Behaviours, supplemented by a further twenty-three frameworks and sets of rules.
This marriage of principle and prescription is perhaps to be celebrated for its ability to respond and adapt to changing times, Alternative Business Structures, the Jackson Reforms, and what have you.
But interpretive risk lurks behind every new provision. Where is that familiar old rule? Is this what my regulator really wants me to do? How do I navigate between outcome and principle when the rules do not expressly provide for my situation?
It remains to be seen how these momentous changes will bed in over time. At least that rigid control over nameplates has relaxed.