Every lawyer knows, perhaps too well, the critical importance of client verification processes, they act as the first line of defence against potential malpractice and misconduct risks.
Yet, even with the strict regulations in place, lapses of concentration can have severe consequences if you are not careful. While no harm was caused by Peter Gaywood's identity verification failures, it is a stark reminder to ensure you are completing identity checks thoroughly.
The Story Behind the Identity Verification Failures
It was April 2022 when a walk-in client visited the premises of Exeter-based firm Dunn & Baker without an appointment. Referred by the receptionist as a pre-existing client of the firm, he was seeking to transfer his property to the names of his four children, initially asserting that he’d received legal advice from the firm on this matter in the past. This claim was predicated on the history the walk-in client claimed to have with another fee-earner at Dunn & Baker.
The legal executive who attended to this walk-in, Peter Gaywood, failed to conduct fresh client identification checks to verify who he was speaking with. Mr Gaywood's lapse unfolded when another party, identified as 'Person B,' sought information related to the property transfer. It was a startling revelation, 'Person B' was the actual owner, and the walk-in, 'Client A,' was a family member unsuspectingly brought in to represent the owner's interests without the requisite client verification.
In legal context, identity verification is an essential first step when initialling meeting with a client and in the onboarding process, it serves as a crucial means to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing. The regulations in place are there for a reason and fortunately in this case, Peter Gaywood's actions did not lead to any harm but things could have turned out very differently.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) condemned the actions of Mr Gaywood. Acknowledging Mr Gaywood's personal circumstances and full cooperation with the investigation, they reiterated the rebuke on his record was a necessity.
The Takeaway for Legal Practitioners
For the legal sector, the verdict stands as a stark reminder of the non-negotiable nature of regulatory compliance. Systems and standards are not excesses in the legal profession, they are important regulations that form the pillar of legal practices.
The narrative of Mr. Gaywood serves not as a condemnation of actions but as a clear remainder to complete thorough checks on all potential clients. It also stresses that vigilance and awareness are equally vital to a functioning, efficient law firm.
Completing identity checks on potential clients are becoming much easier with innovative technology moving to the forefront of the legal sector. Products like Dynamic ID are changing the way law firms operate, the effective software is allowing lawyers to complete compliant identity verification checks within minutes.
The biometric technology sets a new industry standard, utilising cutting-edge methods such as facial recognition and liveness scanning to provide seamless yet robust ID checks. Its an effective identity verification solution that allows you to remain compliant and efficient in both your onboarding processes and overall client experience.
In a stringent legal sector, shortcuts and lapses of concentration have no space. Every case, every client, and every transaction demand the same process of quality controlled checks. The SRA regulations are set to the highest standards and they have demonstrated on more than one occasion that failure to comply to regulations will lead to sanctions.