Closure of Practice due to Overwhelm or Financial Difficulty
Any number of reasons may make a practice become unviable either due to finance or just due to the principal becoming overwhelmed and unable to cope.
Sometimes the cause is a lack of work but sometimes it is because the practitioner is too successful in attracting work but, unable to turn work away, fails to manage the workload.
What is clear is that if you find yourself in the unhappy situation where you are struggling to cope, the sooner you take advice on a confidential and privileged basis, the sooner you will have a clear idea of the way forward.
Remember you do not have to have done anything improper to land in this position. It can arise from a combination of circumstances and events which have been allowed to unfold because attention was directed elsewhere. Ignoring the problem will not make it disappear and the likelihood is that the longer you wait the more difficult it will become to resolve.
It is easy for a principal not to see the wood for the trees let alone to be able to see a path through the forest. Solicitors must grant themselves time to take stock.
The solicitor just may not find enough hours in the day to do their fee earning work. The initial buzz of satisfaction in receiving instructions soon leads to long hours and the need to work in the evenings and at weekends. Over time this becomes unsustainable, sometimes to the extent that the practitioner cannot cope.
External factors may play their part. High volume/low margin casework like legal aid work also involves high levels of reporting and payment delays.
Cases that are ongoing change in their nature and judges can demand prompt attention to issues requiring changes to planned work priorities of the practitioner without notice.
Sometimes one should say no to a client. Placing our own interests first goes against every instinct of a solicitor. The work ethic is to protect the client and put the client’s interests above our own.
Each solicitor has to realise that failing to resolve these issues is not in the interests of the clients.
The problem may be financial in its nature because there is insufficient work to generate income to cover the overheads let alone make a profit. Sometimes the problem is because the principal has so much casework there is no time left to run the practice and to submit and collect bills.
It is often the case that the very clients on whose behalf the solicitor is undertaking excessive work will complain about poor service or be reluctant to pay their bills.
There may be steps that can be taken to bring matters under control but sometimes there has to be a realisation that an orderly closure or disposal is appropriate.
Such an outcome often does not indicate that you are a bad solicitor but rather that circumstances have been unkind. There is a need to protect the solicitor and the clients.
Being in financial difficulties is something that you must report to the SRA. Be aware that there can be consequences and so take advice before submitting such a report.
A sole practitioner making such a report faces an increased danger of action being taken to protect clients which can include consideration of an intervention.
If you've made a mistake
If the pressure on you as a practitioner arises from the fact that you believe you have made a mistake or done something improper it is just as important to seek help without delay.
Your solicitor will deal with you confidentially and their advice will be privileged. The SRA are not bound by the same obligations.
No report by your solicitor can be made without your consent if
information comes in circumstances covered by privilege.
Often steps can be taken short of closure to address the issues. Urgent advice should be taken from an experienced regulatory lawyer with management experience. A clear picture openly and candidly presented will get the best result.
Privilege and confidentiality will ensure discussions remain private. There is no need to be embarrassed or ashamed and you will not be judged. Often simple steps which will help are obvious to the objective adviser.
Remember it is never too early to take advice.
The solicitor will take an objective view of the situation and will help to assess what steps should be taken and even whether it is viable to continue the practice.
Sometimes solicitors have major worries about minor issues but experience shows it is always better to receive advice and to address the issues rather than endure sleepless nights.
Initial advice is free of charge under the Solicitors Assistance Scheme.
Life does go on. Grief is not something you “get over”, rather it becomes part of you that will become integrated into who you are. To grieve indicates that you cared about the deceased, and it is an entirely natural reaction.
There will always be memories and anniversaries, but eventually you will adapt to a changed life with different relationships and perspectives. If you feel you cannot move on, please seek help as acute, unaddressed grief can be detrimental to both mental and physical health.
Richard Nelson is a solicitor in private practice at Richard Nelson LLP specialising in solicitors disciplinary, regulatory and practice management matters. He is a member of the Solicitors Assistance Scheme and the Regulatory Processes Committee of The Law Society. Any comments made or views expressed are his own and not those of or on behalf of any other organisation or party.
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