Vulnerability is hard to define, in that what makes a client vulnerable can be a spectrum of factors (or a combination of events) rather than a single obvious issue. You might say that some vulnerabilities have physical clues, like being a wheelchair user, while others are more difficult to discover, like dyslexia for example, or may in fact be actively hidden. So the recent guidance from the Law Society makes welcome reading.
However, detecting vulnerability starts with awareness of it, and it’s not just private client lawyers who might want to brush up on their skills here. Have a look at the list of risk factors which might prompt a consideration of vulnerability, in the Practice Note of 2nd July 2015
It’s clear to me that as the practice of law inevitably involves dealing with people, it must also follow that client vulnerability is something which needs to be considered at the start (and during) every transaction.
So what resources are there?
The Practice Notes usefully lists some of the reasonable adjustments your firm could make to accommodate the needs of vulnerable clients. How many of these are you currently delivering? The accompanying “easy-read” guide to how to use a solicitor is a useful resource for both vulnerable clients and carers.
Make sure your Diversity and Equality Training is up to date and deals with this key issue. Ensure you have made it as simple as possible to have a discussion about disability with your clients by highlighting this at the start of your client care letter, not hiding it away on page 26 of your Terms of Business.
Look at it this way: if the resources are there and you choose not to use them, you may be risking a discrimination claim or a claim for a failure to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.
Fiona Gillam runs training courses and practical workshops on Identifying Client Vulnerability.