UCL Faculty of Laws


Do institutional clients threaten lawyer independence?

13 January 2016, 6:00 pm–7:00 pm


Event Information

Open to



Centre for Ethics & Law


UCL Marquee (Main Quad), Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

Speaker: Dr Steven Vaughan (University of Birmingham)
Discussant: Enid Rowlands (Chair of the Solicitors Regulation Authority) and Alasdair Douglas(Chairman of the City of London Law Society)
Admission: Free
Accreditation: This event is accredited with 1 CPD hour with the SRA and BSB

About the talk

Dr Steven Vaughan will draw on research he has conducted over the last year to ask whether institutional clients threaten lawyers’ independence.

The relationship between large commercial law firms and their clients and the impact of these relationships on professional independence, ethics, standards and risk is of central importance to the effective regulation of the solicitors’ profession.

There has been a shift in the standard dynamic of lawyer-client relationships in large firms. Clients now hold significant power over their firms.

This is due to a  complex of factors: increasing competition for legal services; the growth of General Counsel; the relative size of clients to their firms; and the ongoing impacts of the financial crisis.

From over 100 interviews with corporate finance lawyers and COLPS in 30 top 100 law firms, Steven will set out his concerns as to the potential for institutional clients to threaten lawyers’ independence.

In particular, his talk will focus on the private regulation of professional lawyers via contract (i.e. the use of law firm panels and outside counsel guidelines), and the practice of what he terms ‘shadow clients’ (whereby third parties – e.g. borrowers – pay the fees of, and have a powerful voice in the appointment of, their lender’s lawyers). 

Download report prepared by Steven, with Claire Coe, for the SRA on ‘Independence, Representation and Risk’

About the speaker

Dr Steven Vaughan is a Senior Lecturer in the Law School, University of Birmingham and Director of Education in its Centre for Professional Legal Education.

His research spans issues of regulation and governance in two fields: the legal profession; and environmental law.

Steven has published widely on lawyers’ regulation, legal ethics, in-house lawyers and diversity in law firms, including The Futures of Legal Education the Legal Profession (Hart, 2015).

Steven began his life as a solicitor and spent 9 years in the City, first with Freshfields and then with Latham & Watkins before moving into academia.

Away from the Law School, he sits on the Research Strategy Committee of the Legal Services Board, the Education Committee of the Solicitors Regulation Authority and was the final Chair of the Joint Academic Stage Board.

He is an award winning teacher, and module leader of ‘Regulation of the Legal Profession’ at Birmingham Law School.