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Residual client balances

28 November 2019

This practice note includes advice on:

  • the rules relating to residual client balances
  • steps to take to return funds to clients
  • what to do when the client cannot be traced

The SRA Standards and Regulations 2019 replaced the SRA Handbook (2011) from 25 November 2019. Accordingly, this practice note is relevant to all law firms and sole practitioners authorised by the SRA. It is also relevant to individual solicitors, RELs and RFLs, wherever they practise.

Legal status

This practice note is the Law Society’s view of good practice in this area. It is not legal advice.

Practice notes are issued by the Law Society for the use and benefit of its members. They represent the Law Society’s view of good practice in a particular area. They are not intended to be the only standard of good practice that solicitors can follow. You are not required to follow them but doing so will make it easier to account to oversight bodies for your actions.

Practice notes are not legal advice, nor do they necessarily provide a defence to complaints of misconduct or of inadequate professional service. While care has been taken to ensure that they are accurate, up to date and useful, the Law Society will not accept any legal liability in relation to them.

For queries or comments on this practice note contact the Law Society’s Practice Advice Service.

SRA Principles

There are seven mandatory principles which apply to all those the SRA regulates and to all aspects of practice. The principles can be found in the SRA Standards and Regulations.

The principles apply to all authorised individuals (solicitors, RELs and RFLs), authorised firms and their managers and employees. They also apply to individuals and the parts of a licensed body involved in delivering the regulated services.

Professional conduct

In relation to residual client balances, you should consider the following principles:

  • principle 2: act in a way that upholds public trust and confidence in the solicitors’ profession and in legal services provided by authorised persons
  • principle 5: act with integrity
  • principle 7: act in the best interests of each client

Terminology

Must – A specific requirement in legislation or of a principle, rule, regulation or other mandatory provision in the SRA Standards and Regulations. You must comply, unless there are specific exemptions or defences provided for in relevant legislation or the SRA’s Regulatory Arrangements.

Should – Outside of a regulatory context, good practice for most situations in the Law Society’s view. In the case of the SRA Standards and Regulations, a non-mandatory provision (such as may be set out in notes or guidance).

These may not be the only means of complying with legislative or regulatory requirements and there may be situations where the suggested route is not the best possible route to meet the needs of your client. However, if you do not follow the suggested route, you should be able to justify to oversight bodies why the alternative approach you have taken is appropriate, either for your practice, or in the particular retainer.

May – A non-exhaustive list of options for meeting your obligations or running your practice. Which option you choose is determined by the profile of the individual practice, client or retainer. You may be required to justify why this was an appropriate option to oversight bodies.

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Practice Advice Service

The Practice Advice Service provides a dedicated support line for Law Society members and employees of law firms. Call us on 020 7320 5675.

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