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Mind Your Language, SRA Warns Solicitors

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A spate of cases involving solicitors being penalised for their use of language in electronic media has prompted the Solicitors Regulation Authority to publish a warning over ‘offensive communications’. A 2,300-word guidance note posted on the regulator’s website today states: ’We have experienced a significant increase in the number of complaints we receive concerning inappropriate communications, specifically (but not limited to) in relation to emails and the use of social media, both inside and outside of practice.

The warning covers communications made both inside and outside practice. It follows the fining of a solicitor earlier this month for posting anti-Semitic rants on Facebook. The SRA notice states that ’online comments posted in a personal capacity and which might be deemed offensive or inappropriate could be classed as misconduct if the poster can be identified as a solicitor’.

According to the notice, examples of the types of behaviour include:

• Making offensive or pejorative comments relating to another person’s race, sexual orientation or religion;

• Referring to women in derogatory terms and making sexually explicit comments; • Making comments which harass or victimise the recipient;

• Using language intended to shock or threaten;

• Making offensive or abusive comments to another firm about that firm or its client, or to individuals who are unrepresented.

The document warns against ’gratuitously offensive’ language in exchanges during litigation, adding that ’it is equally important to remain professional when dealing with an individual who is representing him or herself, or has appointed a McKenzie friend.

While the document does not form part of the SRA Handbook, the regulator says it ’will have regard to it’ when exercising regulatory functions.

Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said: ’We expect solicitors to act at all times with integrity, including on social media and when commenting in what may seem to be a personal capacity. Public confidence in the profession is undermined by offensive or inappropriate communication and the misuse of social media can be a real problem.’