When undertaking background screening checks in the legal sector, the single most important piece of regulation to be aware of is the Suitability Test (2011)
. Overseen by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA
), it is designed to ensure that a solicitor can demonstrate the honesty, integrity and professionalism expected of them and does not pose a risk to either the public or the profession. As well as solicitors, the remit of the Suitability Test also covers law firm owners, managers and compliance officers. However, in a sector where a firm’s reputation is so important to its well-being, there is a strong argument for voluntarily extending SRA-level background screening throughout the entire organisation. Extended further still, the fear of reputational damage is why more law firms may now be considering adding social media to their list of preferred background screening checks.
A major challenge for many legal firms is having the in-house resources in place to do this. Most law firms are fairly small organisations, meaning that HR resource for overseeing background screening is typically scarce. To further complicate matters, the Basic Requirements in the SRA Handbook have been updated 13 times in the five-year period to 2019 alone, making it challenging to stay abreast of all the latest changes. The Suitability Test requires an extensive list of assurances
to be provided regarding an individual’s background and character. Unsurprisingly, this will require a Standard Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)
criminal records check. An international equivalent will need to be undertaken if the individual has lived abroad for periods longer than 12 months in the past five years.
also form an important (if sometimes overlooked) part of the Test. Wanting to be assured that an individual is unlikely to be compromised financially, the SRA looks for evidence that they can manage their finances correctly, have never been dishonest about their finances or avoided responsibility for any personal debts. Sadly, there have also been cases in the past of lawyers, even senior lawyers, being exposed for having lied on their CV about the qualifications. Checking professional qualifications – at source – is therefore an important consideration, not just in terms of an individual’s honesty and integrity but also their suitability to practice.
In a similar vein, checks are often advised for verifying a candidate’s existing registration with the SRA and whether any disciplinary matters are on record with the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal
. In Scotland, the equivalent checks need to be made with the Law Society of Scotland
and the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal
. In fact, similar checks can – and should – be conducted with any number of national equivalents. This is an increasingly complicated and onerous undertaking for even the largest multi-national firms but is something that Verifile is well placed to assist with.
Failure to comply with the SRA rules will see a solicitor prevented from practicing. Other sanctions available to the SRA include imposing financial penalties and barring people from working in an SRA-regulated firm. Unlike other regulated sectors, there is currently no formal requirement for post-employment screening
– although how long this continues for remains to be seen. Instead, for now, the SRA focuses on ensuring that firms provide staff with sufficient training to maintain the required levels of competence regarding their work and their public responsibilities. However, the voluntary implementation of an ongoing monitoring programme is something that Verifile highly recommends.
Checks that employers may want to consider running in this sector
Right to Work: We’ll ensure that a candidate’s documentation meets the current Home Office requirements. We can also repeat checks as and when needed for individuals who have a limited entitlement to remain in the UK.
Identity checks: To prevent employers falling victim to identity fraud, we can undertake electronic verification checks on identity documents provided by a candidate. Alternatively, we can provide online identity checks, using biographical data.
Criminal record checks: We’ll undertake the appropriate level of UK criminal record checks, subject to strict eligibility guidelines. We’re also able to obtain overseas criminal records for candidates with an international background.
Credit checks: We’ll establish a candidate’s identity, address history and financial status via credit referencing agency records. The search will reveal details of financial probity and information including County Court Judgements, bankruptcies and voluntary arrangements within the last six years. This search will be recorded on the candidate’s file but will not be visible to other parties and will not affect the candidate’s credit score.
International fraud and sanctions watchlists: We’ll check to see whether a candidate’s name appears on any of the hundreds of publicly available watchlists worldwide, relating to anything from terrorism and fraud through to being a barred or politically exposed person.
Directorship checks: We'll check to establish whether a candidate holds any company directorships and whether or not they are disqualified from being a director.
Professional registration and disciplinary checks: We’ll check whether a candidate is registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority and whether their name appears in any records held by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, detailing findings or orders made against them.
Employment history: We can verify a candidate’s work history and references for the past 5-10 years, including checks on the existence and authenticity of all listed employers. Using our CV comparison service, we can also check for any discrepancies between the CV used to secure an interview and the subsequent findings of the full background check.
Professional and academic qualifications: Where applicable, we can check the validity of someone’s professional accreditations or registrations while also checking that their academic qualifications are genuine. For all professional and academic qualifications, we’ll always check at source with the awarding body.
Social media checks: An increasingly popular – and relevant – check for employers keen to understand whether someone’s social media activity could damage their brand, reputation or client relationships. As well as highlighting illegal activity and undesirable characteristics, such checks can also play a part in authenticating a candidate’s employment history.