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A lifeline for solicitors

The Solicitors’ Assistance Scheme offers free confidential help and advice for all solicitors in England and Wales, their families and employees on any problem troubling them, whether personal or professional. We offer a lifeline to solicitors with problems by providing a fellow practitioner who will listen and help. We are proud of the help that we provide.

The scheme, which has been in operation for over thirty years:

• comprises around 80 volunteers from all over England and Wales, most of whom are practicing solicitors with a high degree of skill and experience in their chosen areas of practice
• provides a wide variety of skills and experience, including counselling and insolvency advice
• ensures that any solicitor with a problem will receive free help and advice from a scheme member
• guarantees that confidentiality will be maintained.

The scheme members offer up to 1 hour of pro bono advice and assistance.

Any further advice and assistance will be offered at the discretion of the scheme member, or will be by way of a formal retainer. 

Confidentiality

The duty of confidentiality starts from the moment that the Scheme member picks up the phone to speak to the solicitor seeking advice under the Scheme.

• The scheme members are independent of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Law Society and the Legal Complaints Service
• Whether or not a formal retainer is entered into, the members are required to respect the confidentiality of the matter being discussed
• The principle of confidentiality is governed by the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct 2007. Guidance note 34 to Rule 20 (Requirements of practice) specifically states that, unless required to do so by law, a solicitor does not have to report serious misconduct or serious financial difficulty to the SRA when the confidential or privileged information is received from another lawyer seeking advice from a confidential helpline such as the Solicitors’ Assistance Scheme.
• Members are able to discuss any problem or fear which you may have without having to ‘whistle blow’

These principles are central to the ethos of the Solicitors’ Assistance Scheme

Free initial advice

The Constitution of the SAS provides that members will provide free initial advice to appropriate individuals (i.e. solicitors, their families and their staff) seeking help via the Scheme.

This will be a mixture of pastoral advice and legal advice but it may not be face to face (very often on the telephone and even anonymous). The Scheme member will therefore not be accepting professional liability for negligence.

Some members extend that hour quite freely and even write letters of confirmation.

Should you wish, you can formally retain the services of the solicitor – see formalised advice.

All advice given by members is given in their own name and not as representatives of or on behalf of the Scheme.

Formalised advice

The free advice can lead to the person seeking advice entering into a retainer, with the Scheme member acting as solicitor in the normal way. In such a case the usual solicitor/client relationship commences.

If you are happy with the advice you have received, you can then negotiate with the solicitor the terms of the retainer. Some solicitors in the scheme have “special rates” that they offer. However the particular terms of the retainer will vary from solicitor to solicitor.

You may also wish to consider in cases of a criminal investigation or dispensary proceedings whether your professional indemnity insurers can assist. Under the terms of your policy, the insurance company is obliged in certain circumstances to meet “defence costs”. If this is the case, notwithstanding any attempt by the insurer to impose a solicitor upon you, you do have the right to appoint your own. The particular members who advise and assist in this area can advise you further.