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SRA looks at intervention impacts on clients

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is to examine the effects on clients when it closes down a firm as part of an intervention.

While interventions are designed to protect the public, they can have profound effects in the short-term on clients of the firm. The research project will quantify and qualify those impacts in a bid to identify where we can learn lessons.

The research will look at:

  • What happens next for clients of intervened firms?
  • What can we learn from clients’ experience of the intervention?
  • Are there any differences in the experiences of different ‘groups’ of clients?

The research is being led by Dr Nigel Balmer, Professor Pascoe Pleasence and Professor Richard Moorhead, all from University College London. The team of academics has a strong track record in carrying out research on legal services and issues of access to justice.

Participants in the research will include former clients of firms where an intervention has taken place. They will be asked a wide range of questions about their experience of the intervention and the impact this made on their case.

Questionnaires are yet to be finalised, but are likely to explore:

  • Were they able to find another suitable firm?
  • Were they still able to resolve their legal case?
  • Did they know why the intervention was happening?
  • What did the intervention agent do that was useful or supportive?

Helen Herniman, Director of Post-Enforcement, said: "Our role is to regulate in the public interest, and interventions are carried out usually when all other options we've explored with a firm have been exhausted. As we've seen with a number of high-profile cases recently, intervening into a practice, while necessary, can still cause a certain amount of disruption.

"We want to see what clients' experiences are when their solicitors firms are closed down. This involves not just those with cases that need immediate attention, but longer term issues such as retrieving files."

Mehrunnisa Lalani, Director of Inclusion, added: "We're already very aware that different groups of clients may often have different needs when they engage a solicitor. This research could help us identify any issues there may be for different groups, and if there are, what we can do about it as the regulator."

The SRA intervenes into a firm of solicitors under Part 1 of Schedule 1 of the Solicitors Act 1974 where it is satisfied that one or more of the grounds under paragraph 1 apply and that it is necessary in the public interest. The SRA carefully balances the need in the public interest to protect the public from the solicitors against the inevitably very serious consequences to the solicitor involved.

Where intervention is necessary, the SRA immediately closes the firm and takes possession of all client documents, papers and client monies held by the firm to keep them safe. Clients with ongoing matters are contacted as soon as possible to let them know the firm has been closed and can no longer act for them so they can instruct alternative legal advisors.

Any papers identified as belonging to that client are then dispatched to them or their new advisors in accordance with the client’s instructions. The SRA also discovers who owns any funds in the client account so too they can be returned. The research project aims to report back later in 2013.

More information on SRA interventions.

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