In Industry Insights

When solicitors are facing an SRA investigation, it’s natural for them to feel apprehensive about the potential impact on their career. Readers of our newsletter will be familiar with the serious penalties handed out by the regulator for professional misconduct. Understanding the investigation process can significantly alleviate concerns and prepare solicitors for the steps ahead.

The inception of an investigation is typically marked by an initial communication from the SRA, outlining the report made against the individual or firm. It’s crucial to remember that a significant number of reports to the SRA conclude without further action.

The SRA’s process is primarily linear, beginning with triage to identify key issues or fast-track serious misconduct reports. The Assessment and Early Resolution Team (AERT) conducts preliminary investigations. If potential breaches are identified, the case is assigned to an Investigation Officer until resolution.

Respondents should expect detailed requests for documents and a written response to allegations. The SRA generally allows two weeks for replies, with extensions available under reasonable circumstances. Providing a thorough and candid response can expedite the investigation process.

It’s advisable to supply only relevant documentation, organised according to the SRA’s instructions, to streamline the review process. Including any mitigating factors in your response from the outset can influence the investigation’s outcome positively, as full cooperation is often recognised and can lead to more favourable terms.

The SRA’s decision-making is guided by its Enforcement Strategy, focusing on serious issues and considering both aggravating and mitigating factors. An ongoing SRA investigation can affect other professional dealings, such as delays in authorisation processes for firms under investigation.

In some cases, the SRA may conduct on-site investigations through its Forensic Investigations team, typically to examine financial records or conduct interviews. However, such measures are reserved for severe breaches or when evidence destruction is a concern.

The SRA has various sanctions at its disposal, from informal advice or warnings to referrals to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for the most severe cases. The decision-making process involves a detailed review of the alleged breaches and may conclude with published sanctions unless challenged.

Regular communication with the SRA and setting expectations for updates are advisable throughout the investigation. For additional guidance, the SRA provides resources on its website to help legal professionals navigate the investigation process.

Understanding the SRA investigation process and responding appropriately can mitigate the impact on your practice and career. Cooperation, organization, and transparency are key to navigating the investigation effectively.

By Ed Marshall, Risk Management Consultant

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