A Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) investigation into a practice normally starts with a letter from the SRA to a manager giving the firm notice that the SRA intends to commence an inspection at the firm’s main office on a specified date.
That date is normally seven to 14 days after the date of the letter, and the letter requires the manager to produce information and documents including accounting records at the start of the inspection. In some cases, advance notice is not given and a written request for production of information and documents is handed to the managers on the first day of the inspection.
The SRA’s initial letter usually has a brief statement of the reason for an investigation. However, the SRA is entitled to withhold the reason for the investigation if it considers that there is a risk that disclosure could lead to a breach of confidentiality or interference with evidence or otherwise prejudice or frustrate an investigation or other regulatory action. Further, the investigation is not limited to matters falling within the scope of the explanation.
SRA investigation officer
Questionnaires are supplied for completion before the investigation commences and the SRA’s investigation officer will start the onsite investigation by interviewing the managing partner and senior managers. During the interview, the investigation officer checks the information in the completed questionnaires and obtains additional information on the firm’s practice and compliance procedures and its management and ownership structure.
After that initial interview, the investigation officer will normally ask to inspect the main accounting records and documents on management and compliance structures such as arrangements with third parties and anti-money laundering procedures.
The investigation officer will also look at client files and the investigations into client files may concentrate on particular areas of work. The investigative work on client files will include requests for copies of some of the documents on the files and for explanations for any unusual aspects of the client work.
How long does an SRA investigation last?
Some investigations are completed within a day and others last for months. If the investigation officer has not found anything of concern, the firm may be told that there is nothing of concern on the last day of the inspection and may then receive a letter confirming that the investigation has concluded.
If the investigation officer finds matters of concern, the SRA is likely to interview one or more of the partners and managers to obtain comments on the matters of concern. If an interview is held, it is common for the SRA to record the interview. The regulated person will be asked to comment on irregularities discovered during the course of the investigation and may be asked to acknowledge that there have been breaches of professional conduct. The SRA will use the responses as evidence in any future disciplinary proceedings.
Forensic investigation report
After the interview is completed the SRA will prepare a forensic investigation report setting out its evidence of the breaches of the professional rules. The FI report will be used as the basis for any future disciplinary or regulatory action.
Attend the interview with a specialist in solicitor regulation
If you are asked to attend an interview we strongly recommend that you ask a specialist in solicitors regulatory matters to attend the interview with you. Our attendance at an interview will not lead to an inference that you think you have done something wrong. It is far easier for an experienced and detached legal representative to prevent the SRA from asking confrontational or unfair questions and we often find that unrepresented solicitors compromise their position if they do not obtain representation at the interview stage.