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Fitness to Practice Update Series: Law Society publishes its annual report for 2021

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Ireland

On 21 October 2021, the Law Society published its annual report. 

The Report outlines that, throughout the pandemic, the Society's regulatory functions have remained operational on a continuous basis. 

There are now 11,458 practising certificate holders in the jurisdiction, of which 53% are female and 47% male. From July 2020 to June 2021, a total of 96 new firms of solicitors opened, with 76 closing. During that same period, two solicitors were struck off the Roll of Solicitors and one solicitor was suspended.

While it is the case that the responsibility for the investigation of all complaints against solicitors transferred from the Law Society to the Legal Service Regulatory Authority ("LSRA") on 7 October 2019, the Complaints and Client Relations Committee ("CCRC") has continued in the meantime to work through complaints made prior to that date.

It is noted that the CCRC, like many other Committees, migrated to remote meetings in 2020 and this has continued in to 2021. The report notes that the remote format has improved how the Committee carries out its functions and the continuation of this format is recommended.

Since July 2020, a total of 23 remote meetings of the CCRC have taken place, with consideration given to 285 items. In July 2020, there were 43 items before the Committee. As of 30 June 2021, a total of just 27 items remain before the CCRC. It is expected that the CCRC will reduce from two divisions to one by the end of 2021, which reflects the significant reduction in the amount of outstanding complaints which pre date October 2019.

It is noted that the CCRC will continue its annual review of applications for practising certificates from solicitors who are the subject of multiple complaints. The Committee has the power to direct the Registrar to refuse to issue a practising certificate, or to issue a practising certificate with conditions.

In terms of the Regulation of Practice Committee ("ROPC"), which oversees the profession's compliance with certain anti-money laundering and regulatory requirements under the Solicitors Acts, it is noted that the Committee met remotely 52 times for scheduled, special and emergency meetings in the period July 2020 to June 2021 and that there was no decrease in the Committee's workload during the pandemic. Arising from these remote meetings, the Committee decided to:
  • Refer three solicitors to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal
  • Refer 12 solicitors to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (ten of these cases related to the late filing of accountants' reports)
  • Apply to the High Court in two cases
  • Withdraw approval of an accountancy firm from the panel of approved accountants
  • Levy contributions amounting to €13,000 towards the cost of investigations.
The report outlines that the Society utilised "desktop reviews" in place of on-site inspections during the pandemic, in order to ensure the ongoing protection of client moneys. This involved solicitors sending required information directly to the authorised person, preferably in password protected electronic format. Approximately 300 off-site inspections were carried out in the year ending June 2021.

The ROPC also oversaw a policy review in relation to solicitors outside the jurisdiction, in order to ensure the robustness of the regulatory legal framework post-Brexit. In light of this review, the ROPC approved the issuing of "certificates of attestation" in place of practising certificates to Irish-qualified solicitors seeking registration with foreign bars. So far, 269 such certificates of attestation have been issued.

The Report also outlines that on 18 December 2020, the LSRA assumed responsibility for regulating advertising by legal practitioners.

A full copy of the 2020-2021 Annual Report can be accessed here:

https://annualreport.lawsociety.ie/media/1961/annualreport-20-21-final.pdf

Written by Aoife Stack and Sinéad Taaffe
 

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