A firm of solicitors can close down for any number of reasons. For instance, they may have actively decided to cease trading or they could be a sole practitioner who is suffering from a long term illness. Alternatively, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) may close down a firm of solicitors because of malpractice or failure to comply with the rules. This could involve the SRA instructing another firm of solicitors to act as their agents in closing the firm down.
Whatever the reason for the closure, it can leave clients in a difficult position. So what should you do if the firm you are using has suddenly closed down?
Some people store their Wills, Deeds or other legal papers in the archives of a firm of solicitors. If a firm closes down voluntarily, they should contact you prior to their closure to see what you want to do with those documents. Usually, they would return the papers to the clients but this might not always be possible. If the firm is closed by the SRA (known as an “intervention”), they will usually take all the papers and documents (via their agents) being held by that firm and store them centrally in their own archives. Obviously, this can be problematic and it can become very difficult to trace such documents.
At the first sign of a firm closing down, it would be advisable to make contact with them and arrange for all your papers and documents to be withdrawn from them. Similarly, if the SRA has closed them down already, make contact with the SRA and ask for your documents to be released to you.
Once you are in possession of your documents, it is up to you what you do with them. You could keep them at home or you could store them securely with another local firm. At Gard & Co. we store Wills and other documents for free. We also provide a free Will checking service to make sure your Will is valid and properly written.
A firm of solicitors may hold money in their account on your behalf. For instance, this could be money they are holding as part of the administration of the estate of someone who has died or it could be an initial payment on account, ready for a conveyancing matter to begin. If that firm plans to close down voluntarily it ought to contact you and return any money that it holds on your behalf. Alternatively, they could assist you in making alternative arrangements, such as moving the work to another firm of solicitors (that you approve) and transferring the funds to them so that the work can continue.
If the firm is closed down by the SRA, all funds will be taken by the SRA and will be held centrally. You will then have to claim your funds back from them. If you do not claim the money back from them, they will eventually try and trace who the money should be returned to, but they do not guarantee any timeframes for this. However, if a firm is closed down on the basis that the SRA suspect some financial impropriety, they may hold on to funds until they are happy that there are no accounting irregularities.
Gard & Co. can assist you in recovering funds held on your behalf from a firm that has closed. We can also help you in bringing your legal issue to a proper conclusion.
If the firm has voluntarily closed down it will be up to you to make alternative arrangements. You will need to act quickly if you are in the middle of a matter such as a house move or the administration of someone’s estate and should contact another firm of solicitors as soon as possible.
If the firm has been closed down by the SRA, it becomes more complicated. The agents of the SRA will take over the files and matters of the firm that has closed. However, they will not run those files and will not carry out legal work for the clients in question. They will keep the documents, file and funds safe until other arrangements can be made. Therefore, if you are in the middle of a property move, you will need to get in touch with another conveyancing solicitor as soon as possible to avoid putting your move in jeopardy. Similarly, if you are the executors of the estate of a deceased person, it is your responsibility to make sure that the work is carried out and that the funds of the estate can be distributed to the beneficiaries of that estate. Therefore it will be crucial to ensure a smooth transition by quickly contacting another firm of solicitors.
Gard & Co would be happy to help you and our solicitors can quickly get your legal work back on track.
If the work a firm was doing for you was concluded prior to them closing voluntarily they will have either made arrangements for your file of papers to be stored elsewhere or will have contacted you with a view to releasing the papers to you. However if the firm has been closed down by the SRA, your file will be stored centrally by the SRA. The SRA will not contact you. You can however contact them and request that your file be released to you. This can take them some time.
No matter what the reason is for your firm of solicitors closing down, it is important to contact them and ascertain what is happening with your documents and funds as soon as possible. If your matter is ongoing or urgent, get in contact with another firm of solicitors as quickly as possible.
Gard & Co will be happy to help. We offer free initial consultations, so there is no financial risk in coming to see us to discuss your circumstances and to see how we could help. We will ensure that you are held in safe hands.