So what should you do if the SRA starts an investigation against you or your firm? If you understand the investigatory process and have well organised files and detailed client and firm accounts, then with the aid of professional support you and your colleagues can manage an SRA investigation in a calm, pragmatic manner.
How does the SRA start an investigation?
At best, you will receive seven to fourteen days’ notice that the SRA is launching an investigation. If the SRA believes a firm may destroy vital evidence, abscond, influence witnesses, or prejudice or frustrate the investigation in some other way it may enter your firm unannounced.
If you receive notice, the letter will state:
- The reasons for the investigation.
- The proposed date of inspection (normally within two weeks of the date of letter).
- A requirement to produce relevant documents and information, including accounting records.
- A requirement to make necessary members of staff available.
- Requests relating to providing space for the investigator to work.
As soon as you receive the SRA letter you need to contact a solicitor who can be at your side during the investigation. The Regulator will not entertain debates about whether the investigation is necessary; therefore, it is best to co-operate fully whilst ensuring you have expert legal advice and representation on hand.
What happens in an SRA interview?
The SRA can interview any of your firm’s employees in connection with its investigation. However, initially interviews will be concentrated on both the Senior and Managing Partners of a firm, along with the Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (COLP) and Compliance Officer for Finance and Administration (COFA) who may need to explain the firm’s governance structure and compliance procedures.
The Regulator can record interviews and these recordings can be used if the investigation proceeds to a hearing in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
It is crucial that you have legal representation at any SRA interview you are asked to attend. This is because although you have the right to refuse to answer certain questions, such an action will lead to you breaching paragraph 7of the SRA Code of Conduct for Solicitors, RELs and RFLs. Therefore, in practical terms, you must answer all questions put before you.
What can I do to protect my best interests in an SRA investigation?
To help you and your colleagues survive an SRA investigation, follow the below tips:
- Ensure your client accounts and compliance procedures are always updated and in order.
- Be open, transparent and honest to an investigator and co-operate fully when it comes to producing documents etc.
- Following an inspection, if you are asked to attend an interview, request that the investigator explain the matters of concern. This will ensure you are prepared when it comes to answering any allegations or tough questions.
- Never attend an interview without legal representation.
- Contact a solicitor experienced in SRA investigations as soon as you receive notice that an investigation is to be conducted on your firm. Your solicitor, who will have an in-depth knowledge of SRA practices and procedures, will advise you on the presentation of documents and what to say when answering any questions.
How long does an SRA investigation last?
Depending on the reason for the investigation, the firm’s co-operation and the accessibility of the files, an SRA inspection can be over in a day or in some circumstances may last for many months.
With proper advice and planning, an SRA investigation can be concluded quickly and quietly. Being honest, co-operating fully, and understanding what to expect will go a long way to ensuring the investigation runs smoothly.
We have been helping solicitors and other legal professionals with disciplinary and regulatory advice for 25 years. If you have any questions relating to an SRA investigation or an SDT appearance, please call us on 0151 909 2380 or complete our Free Online Enquiry.