Steps to take if an investigation is likely
It is fair to say that modern practice as a solicitor has its fair share of stressful situations but one of the most stressful and emotional events is a possible investigation.
In this article, written by solicitor Richard Nelson, we outline some of the key issues to consider if a investigation into your firm is likely.
Initial free advice is available from The Solicitors Assistance Scheme
If the SRA receives information that there has been misconduct at a solicitor’s practice or that the interests of the public or the profession are at risk it is likely that there will be an investigation which can result in an intervention. Whilst this can be extremely daunting it is important to remain calm and thoroughly prepare for the investigation.
Take it seriously
Do not ignore communications or comments from the SRA .
Putting your head in the sand or failing to address the problems will never solve the issue.
Prioritise this issue. It is more important to defeat any suggestion of intervention than it is to gather or service new clients. There is no point in securing instructions if you are not going to be able to act because your practice has been shut down.
Get legal advice
Take advice from a solicitor who deals with disciplinary proceedings against the SRA.
Be open and candid with your solicitor who can only provide the best advice if the scenario that is presented is accurate.
Get on top of your admin
Get on top of your administration and record-keeping. In particular ensure that your reconciliations are up-to-date. If there are any shortfalls check how they have occurred and make good the client account.
It is a requirement of the accounts rules that balances however small are returned to clients at the conclusion of a transaction without delay. If there is no shortfall clean up your accounts by returning funds due to clients.
If there are unresolved sums of money which are held in a suspense account do your best to resolve and allocate these funds properly.
Check your complaints records to ensure that they are up to date and that you have complied with any awards made against you by the Legal Ombudsman.
Check your COLP and COFA records. Ensure that they are up to date.
Nominate a point of contact
Arrange a point of contact within your firm for the SRA investigator through whom enquiries will be directed. In most cases it is useful to keep staff informed and to ensure that none of them engage in casual conversation with the investigator. Nothing will be off the record.
Think about cash flow
If you are used to paying your domestic bills from office account transfer the standing orders and direct debits to your personal account. No payments will be made out of your office account if there is an intervention.
If you are owed money by the firm transfer the funds due to you to cover living expenses in the event of an intervention.
You will not be able to access your office account if an intervention resolution is passed.
Make sure that bills for completed matters are submitted.
Get useful documents together
Gather together positive reviews from clients, thank you cards, and emails suggesting that clients are satisfied. You cannot have too many of these. Copy them and keep a copy at home.
Take copies of any material you believe is likely to be important to your case and lodge these with your solicitor or store the copies safely at home. They may be difficult to locate following an intervention.
Above all ensure that you are advised and represented from an early stage, if it is within your means. You should take seriously any threat of intervention as the damage to you and your reputation, and financially is likely to be significant. The fact that the investigation may be due to the conduct of others in the firm does not mean you are protected.
Richard Nelson is a solicitor in private practice at Richard Nelson LLP specialising in solicitors disciplinary, regulatory and practice management matters. He is a member of the Solicitors Assistance Scheme and the Regulatory Processes Committee of The Law Society. Any comments made or views expressed are his own and not those of or on behalf of any other organisation or party.
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