Subpoena Responses for Financial Institutions 

March, 2023 - Owens Kyle A

Financial services companies, such as banks, credit unions, lenders, finance companies, loan servicers, broker-dealers, and securities firms, often receive subpoenas from parties in litigation involving their customers, employees, and business partners. They may also receive subpoenas from regulatory organizations, government agencies, and grand juries. Subpoenas may seek information about customer accounts, specific transactions, or the activities and operations of the financial services company itself.

Generally speaking, subpoenas command a person or an entity to:

  • Testify as a witness. When seeking testimony from an entity, like a financial services company, the subpoena may require the company to designate a representative or multiple representatives to testify on the company’s behalf. A witness may testify by either:
    • appearing at a deposition, hearing, trial, or other proceeding; or
    • submitting written testimony, often to authenticate documents being produced in response to the subpoena, such as in a declaration, an affidavit, or in response to a deposition on written questions.

  • Produce documents, electronically stored information (ESI), or other tangible items (document subpoena). A subpoena for documents may be directed to a financial services company’s custodian of records and require an affidavit or a declaration from the custodian that authenticates the documents.
  • Testify and produce documents and information.
  • Permit the inspection of a premises that the person or entity owns or otherwise controls. (For example, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (FRCP) 45; Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Rules 12512 and 12513.)

The information requested in a subpoena is often sensitive in nature and may be confidential or subject to a regulatory privilege. Counsel handling a financial services company’s response to these subpoenas must ensure that they protect their client’s interests, as well as give due regard for the interests of customers and other stakeholders.

This article discusses:

  • Common scenarios in which financial services companies receive subpoenas and the kinds of information and documents the subpoenas seek.
  • The rules that apply to subpoenas that financial services companies often receive.
  • The legal and practical concerns regarding the production of information, including the assertion of regulatory privileges and the protection of customers’ personal information.
  • The procedural considerations for counsel when they receive subpoenas, including whether the recipients are obligated to respond to them and how to raise objections.

Scenarios Where Financial Services Companies Receive Subpoenas

Subpoenas to financial services companies commonly arise in various:

  • Disputes in civil courts and arbitration, where the parties seek information about accounts held by or transactions involving their adversaries or relevant third parties.
  • Regulatory, criminal, and other investigations, where government agencies and other regulatory bodies seek information regarding the company or its customers, employees, or other stakeholders.

Litigation and Other Proceedings in Civil Courts

Parties often subpoena financial services companies in various civil matters in state and federal court, including:

  • Commercial litigation and business disputes. Parties in these cases often seek financial records of businesses and individuals to:
    • locate disputed assets;
    • investigate an entity’s or individual’s financial position;
    • determine how certain funds have been used, including to investigate fraudulent transfer, breach of fiduciary duty, or self-dealing claims; and
    • uncover evidence relevant to any number of other issues in the litigation.

  • Class actions. Class counsel in a securities class action may subpoena a securities firm for the names and contact information of customers who purchased a particular stock or bond (for a collection of resources on bringing a securities class action, see Commencing a Federal Securities Class Action Toolkit on Practical Law).
  • Trusts and estates disputes. Executors, administrators, trustees, and beneficiaries may seek account information regarding, among other things:
    • a decedent’s or trust’s assets;
    • challenged transactions involving a decedent; and
    • alleged wrongdoing or self-dealing by trustees, administrators, and executors. (For more information, see Trusts & Estates Litigation: Overview on Practical Law.)

  • Family law matters. Parties in divorce proceedings may seek account information to:
    • identify a spouse’s assets for the division of marital or community property; or
    • investigate efforts to conceal property from the other spouse or the court.

  • Guardianship and conservatorship matters. A guardian or conservator may seek information to:
    • identify the assets of a ward or other protected individual; or
    • investigate suspicious transactions involving the ward’s assets before the creation of the guardianship or conservatorship.

  • Post-judgment enforcement proceedings. A judgment creditor may subpoena records to identify a judgment debtor’s assets in search of property to levy to enforce a judgment (for more information, see Enforcing Federal Court Judgments: Basic Principles on Practical Law).
  • Receiverships. A receiver may seek information regarding the assets subject to the receivership and certain transactions preceding the appointment of the receiver (for more information, see Corporate Receiverships: Overview on Practical Law).
  • Bankruptcy proceedings. A bankruptcy trustee or creditor may seek information regarding the assets of the debtor, preferential transfers, or fraudulent transfers (for more information, see Bankruptcy Basics: What Commercial Litigators Need to Know on Practical Law).


Financial services companies may receive subpoenas from arbitrators and arbitration forums. Although subpoenas may arise in any forum, they are common in arbitrations before FINRA. For example:

  • In disputes between customers and their financial advisors:
    • broker-dealers and financial advisors sometimes seek records related to securities accounts held at other firms to corroborate or rebut a customer’s contentions regarding risk tolerance or financial resources; and
    • customers sometimes seek records from individual financial advisors’ previous firms to corroborate allegations against the financial advisors (for example, customers may seek employment records, FINRA registration records, supervisory records, and other business records related to the financial advisors).

  • In an industry dispute between a broker-dealer and an associated person, a broker-dealer might seek employment records and registration files from the associated person’s previous firms when defending against defamation claims regarding the broker-dealer’s disclosures in the associated person’s FINRA Form U-5 Uniform Termination Notice for Securities Industry Registration.

Banks, which are generally not FINRA members, may receive subpoenas arising from FINRA arbitrations. This typically occurs when a bank has an associated broker-dealer that is a FINRA member. For example, financial advisors may be employed by a bank and registered with FINRA through their association with a broker-dealer. (For information on FINRA registration, see Broker-Dealer Registration: Overview and Broker-Dealers: Registration and Licensing of Associated Persons and Personnel on Practical Law; for a collection of resources on FINRA arbitrations, see FINRA Arbitration Toolkit on Practical Law.)

Government and Regulatory Investigations

Financial services companies may receive subpoenas from government agencies and regulatory authorities arising from:

  • State health and welfare agency investigations. For example, a state agency may seek information regarding the financial assets of a vulnerable adult for purposes of investigating alleged financial exploitation or elder abuse.
  • Tax matters. The Internal Revenue Service or a state taxing authority may seek, among other things, customer records or account information to investigate allegations of tax evasion.
  • State or federal grand jury subpoenas. Prosecutors may use grand jury subpoenas to seek account or transactional information relevant to the investigation of suspected crimes involving customers, employees, or related entities of financial services companies.
  • State or federal financial regulatory investigations. Regulators and governmental entities may subpoena financial services companies as part of their oversight or enforcement responsibilities. These subpoenas may originate from:
    • the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB);
    • the Department of Justice (DOJ);
    • the Treasury Department;
    • the Federal Trade Commission;
    • the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC);
    • the Commodity Futures Trading Commission;
    • FINRA;
    • federal and state law enforcement agencies; or
    • state attorneys general.

Rules Governing Subpoenas

The procedures parties must follow to enforce subpoenas depend on the rules that apply. The specific rules governing subpoenas vary depending on the issuing:

  • Court.
  • Arbitration forum.
  • Regulatory agency or government office.

Subpoenas in Civil Litigation

FRCP 45 and analogous state rules of civil procedure typically govern subpoenas in civil cases. These rules generally dictate the formatting, issuance, and service of subpoenas in civil proceedings (for example, FRCP 45; Ohio R. Civ. P. 45; Tex. R. Civ. P. 176.1).

Parties serving subpoenas in civil cases generally must:

  • Be a party to a pending lawsuit or to a lawsuit in which the party is seeking post-judgment discovery. In other words, subpoenas in civil litigation typically are invalid without an underlying case.
  • Include any disclosures or other information required under the applicable rules of civil procedure (for example, FRCP 45(a)(1)(A) (requiring, among other things, that subpoenas include a case number, the issuing court, a case caption, and the text of FRCP 45(d) and (e))).
  • Ensure that the subpoenas are signed by an appropriate officer of the court. Depending on the jurisdiction and circumstances, that may be the clerk of court, the judge, or an attorney (for example, FRCP 45(a)(3) (permitting attorneys to sign subpoenas)).
  • Properly serve the subpoena, as set out in the applicable rules of civil procedure. For example:
    • FRCP 45 requires the issuing party to personally serve subpoenaed parties (FRCP 45(b)(1));
    • some states statutes require the issuing party to open a miscellaneous action or obtain a commission and then serve the subpoena according to that state’s rules; and
    • some state rules permit service of subpoenas by less formal means, such as by certified mail or by email or social media if other methods of service are unsuccessful (for example, Ohio R. Civ. P. 45(B) (permitting certified mail service)).

  • Comply with any additional forum-specific rules that apply, such as:
    • rules governing service of subpoenas on other parties to the lawsuit (for example, FRCP 5(a)(1)(C) (requiring service of discovery papers, such as subpoenas, on all parties to the lawsuit); NY CPLR 3120(3) (requiring service of copies of the subpoena on all parties when serving the subpoenaed party)); and
    • procedures for obtaining customer records from financial services companies (for example, Tex. Fin. Code Ann. § 59.006 (requiring, among other things, at least 24 days to respond after service, payment of the financial services company’s reasonable costs of compliance or posting of a bond for that amount, and notice to any nonparty customer of the records request, and prohibiting a financial services company from producing records until the issuing party complies with the statute)).

Subject to any limitations on service in a particular jurisdiction, parties in litigation generally do not need to subpoena the company directly and, instead, may subpoena specific employees of the company, such as a financial advisor or branch manager. In these cases, parties often serve their subpoenas at the branch office where the employee works. This approach could raise complications for document subpoenas, however, because the employees may not have possession, custody, or control of the documents. Branch offices should have a procedure in place to immediately forward subpoenas to a designated team or department.

(For a collection of resources to assist counsel in drafting, serving, and responding to document subpoenas under FRCP 45, see Subpoena Toolkit (Federal) on Practical Law; for information on key statutes and rules that US states and territories have adopted to handle discovery requests from outside the state’s jurisdiction, see Interstate Discovery Chart on Practical Law.)

Subpoenas in Arbitration

The rules of arbitration forums often permit discovery from nonparties, including through the use of subpoenas. The procedures required depend on the forum rules. For example:

  • In FINRA arbitrations, FINRA’s codes of arbitration procedure permit arbitrators to:
    • issue subpoenas for documents and testimony to nonparties who are not FINRA members or associated persons; and
    • order nonparty FINRA member firms and associated persons, such as financial advisors, to produce documents and information, with or without a subpoena. (For example, FINRA Rules 12512 and 12513 (customer disputes); FINRA Rules 13512 and 13513 (industry disputes).)

  • In arbitrations before the American Arbitration Association (AAA), applicable AAA rules may permit arbitrators to issue subpoenas to nonparties (for example, AAA Commercial Arbitration Rules, Rule 34).

Arbitrator subpoenas may not be enforceable without court intervention under some circumstances. This typically depends on whether the nonparty has agreed to the jurisdiction of the arbitrator. For example, FINRA member firms and associated persons typically must comply with FINRA arbitrators’ orders or else risk sanctions from FINRA (FINRA Rule 13513; for more information, see FINRA Industry Arbitration: A Step-by-Step Guide on Practical Law).

Most nonparties, however, have not agreed to the jurisdiction of the arbitrator or the forum. In those cases, an arbitrator’s subpoena typically may be enforced only by filing an action under the Federal Arbitration Act or, if not preempted, an applicable state arbitration statute. The ability to obtain pretrial discovery by subpoena in those circumstances may be limited and varies by circuit. (For more information, see Compelling Evidence from Nonparties in Arbitration in the US on Practical Law.)

Subpoenas in Criminal Proceedings and Government and Regulatory Investigations

The rules governing government and regulatory subpoenas vary widely. For example, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure generally apply to subpoenas issued from grand jury investigations and subpoenas to testify in a criminal case (for example, Fed. R. Crim. P. 6 and 17) and address requirements such as:

  • The form and format of the subpoena (for example, Fed. R. Crim. P. 17(a)).
  • Who may issue a subpoena and how they may issue it (for example, Fed. R. Crim. P. 17(a), (f)).
  • What information, documents, and testimony may be demanded in a subpoena (for example, Fed. R. Crim. P. 17(c), (h)).
  • Service methods and procedures (for example, Fed. R. Crim. P. 17(d), (e) (requiring personal service of subpoenas in criminal cases and permitting service on US parties anywhere in the US)).

Some agencies and organizations have their own rules governing the issuance of subpoenas and information requests (for example, FINRA Rule 8210 and SEC Enforcement Manual § 3.2.6). Similarly, FINRA, the SEC, and other regulatory agencies have their own rules for responding and objecting to subpoenas (for example, FINRA Rule 8210 and SEC Enforcement Manual § 3.2.7). These rules may impose fewer service and formatting requirements than the federal rules because the agencies that issue information requests to financial services companies often directly regulate them (such as in the case of broker-dealers).

Failure to comply with government and regulatory investigations can have severe consequences, for example:

  • Contempt of court for failing to obey a subpoena in a criminal proceeding (Fed. R. Crim. P. 17(g)).
  • Sanctions from the agency that issued the requests (for example, FINRA Rule 8310).

(For a collection of resources on investigations relevant to financial services companies, see DOJ Investigations of Organizations ToolkitFinancial Industry Regulatory Investigations Toolkit, and FINRA Enforcement Toolkit on Practical Law; for more on grand jury investigations, see Grand Jury Witness Testimony on Practical Law.)

Privacy, Confidentiality, and Privilege Issues

Subpoenas to financial services companies often seek confidential and privileged information, such as customer account information and records kept by financial services companies for regulatory purposes. Counsel responsible for subpoena responses must ensure, at a minimum, that they:

  • Comply with applicable privacy laws and regulations.
  • Preserve applicable regulatory privileges, such as the bank examiner privilege, and comply with the non-disclosure requirements of anti-money laundering laws and regulations, such as the Bank Secrecy Act.

Customer Privacy and Consumer Protection

When responding to subpoenas and other requests for information, financial services companies must ensure compliance with applicable privacy laws. This means withholding, redacting, or otherwise protecting customer information from disclosure to third parties where required by law. For example:

  • The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA), as implemented by the CFPB’s Regulation P, restricts the disclosure of nonpublic personal information (15 U.S.C. § 6809(4)). The GLBA:
    • prohibits a financial services company from disclosing nonpublic personal information to a nonaffiliated third party unless the company has given the consumer notice and provided an opportunity to opt out; and
    • provides exceptions for properly authorized civil, criminal, and regulatory investigations, and for subpoenas or summonses from federal, state, or local authorities, including law enforcement agencies and self-regulatory organizations, such as FINRA. (For example, 15 U.S.C. § 6802(a), (b), (e)(5), and (e)(8); for more on the GLBA, see GLBA: The Financial Privacy and Safeguards Rules and Financial Privacy Rules Compliance Checklist on Practical Law.)

  • The SEC’s Privacy of Consumer Financial Information rule (Regulation S-P) (17 C.F.R. pt. 248) requires financial services companies to provide customers with a notice of their privacy policies and practices. The regulation also prohibits disclosure of nonpublic personal information about a consumer to nonaffiliated third parties unless the financial services company provides certain information to the consumer and the consumer has not opted out of the disclosure. The SEC promulgated this rule under Section 504 of the GLBA. Similar to Regulation P, it provides exceptions for properly authorized civil, criminal, and regulatory investigations.
  • The Right to Financial Privacy Act (RFPA) may impose requirements in connection with a government subpoena or request for information. Before responding to a request for information from a federal agency, a financial services company should obtain a written certification from the agency stating that it has complied with the RFPA in connection with that request (12 U.S.C. § 3403(b)). The RFPA:
    • generally prohibits federal departments and agencies from obtaining customer information from “financial institutions,” which include banks, credit unions, card issuers, industrial loan companies, trust companies, and consumer finance institutions, unless certain conditions are met (12 U.S.C. § 3401(1));
    • contains various exceptions for valid administrative subpoenas and summonses, search warrants, judicial subpoenas, and certain other requests (12 U.S.C. § 3402);
    • generally requires the department or agency to serve a copy of any subpoena, summons, or request on the affected customer, disclose specific information to the customer, and provide the customer an opportunity to challenge the subpoena or summons, though this requirement may be modified by a court (12 U.S.C. §§ 3405 and 3407-09); and
    • does not apply in certain contexts, such as supervisory or regulatory examinations, proceedings in which a government authority and customer are parties, and grand jury proceedings (12 U.S.C. §§ 3413-14).

(For a collection of resources to assist financial services companies in creating, implementing, and reviewing US privacy and data security compliance programs, see Financial Privacy Compliance Toolkit on Practical Law.)


Regulatory Obligations and Privileges

Subpoenas to financial services companies may seek documents and information subject to certain regulatory privileges and similar non-disclosure obligations.

Bank Examiner Privilege

The bank examiner privilege may protect materials from disclosure where a subpoena seeks communications with regulators, an examination report, or other information related to regulatory supervision of a bank. Under this privilege, the information is considered the property of the regulator, not the financial services company, and the regulator must consent to disclosure of the information. Several federal agencies have their own regulations specifying the contours of the privilege (for example, 12 C.F.R. §§ 4.31 to 4.40 (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency); 12 C.F.R. §§ 309.1 to 309.7 (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation); 12 C.F.R. §§ 1070.1 to 1070.63 (CFPB)). State agencies may have analogous requirements. (For more information, see Bank Examiner Privilege and Bank Supervision and Examinations on Practical Law.)

Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs)

Subpoenas may seek, whether intentionally or unintentionally, documents or communications that deal with SARs. Financial services companies must file SARs under the Bank Secrecy Act when they are asked to handle certain suspicious transactions or when they suspect certain violations of federal law.

The Bank Secrecy Act strictly prohibits financial services companies from disclosing a SAR or any information that would reveal the existence of a SAR in many instances, including in response to any discovery request in civil litigation, including a subpoena (for example, 31 C.F.R. § 1020.320(e)(1) (requiring banks and their agents to keep SARs confidential)). Certain exceptions to the non-disclosure rule exist for information requests from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and certain state and federal regulators (31 C.F.R. § 1020.320(e)(1)). (For more information, see Suspicious Activity Reporting Requirements for Financial Institutions on Practical Law.)

Procedure for Responding to a Subpoena

The procedure for responding to a subpoena includes:

  • Identifying who will handle the subpoena response.
  • Preserving relevant documents and information.
  • Determining the applicable deadlines.
  • Asserting objections and producing documents responsive to the subpoena.

(For more on responding to subpoenas generally, see Subpoenas: Responding to a Subpoena (Federal) on Practical Law.)

Determine Who Handles Subpoena Responses

Financial services companies often have established intake procedures for subpoena responses, which may include:

  • Delivering the subpoena to an in-house subpoena team, which may handle the entire response in appropriate cases. This team often includes paralegals or other non-attorney professionals who report to in-house counsel.
  • Hiring outside counsel to handle the response. A company typically should hire outside counsel if it does not have an in-house subpoena team.

Even where a financial services company has a subpoena response team, it may want to hire outside counsel in the relevant jurisdiction if the scope or subject matter of the subpoena is potentially problematic. Outside counsel may be better positioned to advise and assist with:

Preserve Relevant Documents and Information

Regardless of who primarily handles a subpoena response, it is critical to consider the obligation to preserve potentially responsive records and other information, including ESI. Where it is appropriate to issue a legal hold notice, counsel should:

  • Identify the departments or lines of business that are the subject of the subpoena as soon as possible.
  • Give notice to all personnel who are likely to have responsive information (for a model legal hold notice, with explanatory notes and drafting tips, see Litigation Hold Notice on Practical Law).
  • Take steps to collect or otherwise preserve potentially responsive information, including:
    • asking relevant personnel to search for and collect any items in their possession; and
    • determining what record systems and files, including ESI, should be searched.

(For a collection of resources to assist counsel in preserving documents and ESI in anticipation of litigation, see Preserving Documents and Electronically Stored Information Toolkit on Practical Law.)

Certain financial services companies must follow regulator-imposed retention requirements that ensure the retention and preservation of the documents and information that may be covered by the subpoena. Broker-dealers, for example, must maintain records for specified time periods in accordance with SEC Rules 17a-3 and 17a-4 (17 C.F.R. §§ 240.17a-3 and 240.17a-4) and FINRA Rule 4511. Even so, financial services companies typically should issue a legal hold notice to appropriate document custodians instructing them to preserve specific records or types of records and suspend otherwise applicable document destruction processes for these materials.

Determine the Subpoena Response Deadlines

In tandem with ensuring that documents and other information are preserved, counsel should review the subpoena carefully to determine:

  • When and how the issuing party served the subpoena, bearing in mind that subpoena respondents may need to object to the subpoena within a certain time after service to avoid waiver (for example, FRCP 45(d)(2)(B) (requiring objections to be raised within the earlier of the date set in the subpoena or 14 days after service)).
  • Who the issuing party is and whether they are represented by counsel.
  • The deadline, if any, for producing responsive materials.
  • The date scheduled for any witness testimony, such as at a deposition, hearing, or trial.
  • Whether the production of documents relieves the financial services company of the obligation to produce a witness (for example, FRCP 45(d)(2)(A); Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 57.09 and 58.02). Often, counsel may avoid preparing a witness for live testimony by producing an affidavit or a declaration from a records custodian to authenticate the documents produced.

Response deadlines are often arbitrary and subject to change, including through negotiations between counsel for the issuer and for the subpoena respondent. However, it is critical to keep track of these deadlines and carefully review the applicable rules to avoid waiver of any objections to the subpoena.

It is also important that the financial services company develop a protocol for branch personnel to follow if they receive a subpoena, including that they forward the subpoena to a designated recipient immediately.

Assert Objections and Produce Responses

When responding to a subpoena, counsel for the financial services company should:

  • Carefully evaluate and assert appropriate objections to the subpoena.
  • Negotiate with the issuing party to limit the burden of the subpoena.
  • Where permitted by law, consider communicating with any affected customers.
  • Produce the appropriate documents.
  • Prepare witnesses to testify.

Evaluate and Assert Objections

Counsel should assess the strength of any potential objections to the subpoena as soon as possible. These objections may be based on:

  • The issuing party’s failure to follow applicable procedures. For example:
    • the subpoena may be facially invalid because, among other reasons, it lacks the necessary signatures, such as the signature of the clerk of court, the judge, or an attorney;
    • the issuing party may not have served the subpoena in the manner required by the applicable jurisdiction’s rules of civil procedure; or
    • the subpoena or the issuing party may not satisfy other jurisdiction-specific requirements, such as those in state statutes protecting customer data held by financial services companies.

  • The subpoena is substantively objectionable because, for example, it:
    • demands a response within an unreasonably short time frame or at an unreasonable location;
    • is overbroad in scope in that it seeks categories of documents and information that are disproportional to the needs of the case; or
    • fails to adequately protect the financial services company’s data or customer data as may be required under state or federal law.

Identifying and understanding the substantive grounds for objection often requires close coordination with the relevant department or line of business.

Counsel should determine whether to:

  • Assert objections in writing, typically in a letter, to issuing counsel.
  • File a motion for a protective order or motion to quash the subpoena to protect the interests of the financial services company or, in appropriate cases, its customers.

(For more on asserting objections to subpoenas in federal court, see Subpoenas: Responding to a Subpoena (Federal) on Practical Law.)

Negotiate with the Issuing Party to Limit the Burden of the Subpoena

Before or simultaneous with raising objections in writing, counsel should consider contacting counsel for the issuing party to seek additional time to complete production or limit the scope of the subpoena. Counsel should remind the issuing party’s counsel of their obligation to avoid imposing an undue burden or expense on a nonparty subpoena recipient and should propose less onerous alternatives (for example, FRCP 45(d)(1)).

Communicate with Affected Customers

If the subpoena seeks the records or information of a customer who is a party in an underlying civil action, or where otherwise permitted by law, counsel should consider reaching out to the customer’s attorney or, if the customer is unrepresented, reaching out to the customer directly. Counsel may want to advise the customer that the financial services company has received the subpoena and inquire whether the customer intends to object or move for a protective order. In some contexts, however, disclosure to the customer may be prohibited (for example, Tex. Fin. Code Ann. § 59.010 (providing that an administrative subpoena may prohibit disclosure of the subpoena’s existence or of the records or information provided)).

It is typically more appropriate for the customer itself to oppose the subpoena if the issuing party has complied with all applicable rules. If the customer does oppose the subpoena, that may help to limit the financial services company’s expenses associated with the subpoena and avoid the need for it to become acquainted with the issues in the case.

Produce Documents

When gathering and reviewing documents for production in response to a subpoena, counsel should:

  • Work closely with the department or line of business that is the subject of the subpoena to identify where potentially responsive materials reside, which typically includes identifying document custodians and relevant record repositories.
  • Ensure that the subpoena recipient’s partners in the business have conducted a reasonably diligent search for responsive materials and collected the records.
  • Conduct a document review to ensure that the documents collected, including any ESI:
    • are responsive to the subpoena’s requests;
    • are not protected from disclosure by any applicable privileges, such as the attorney-client privilege or regulatory privileges (see Regulatory Obligations and Privileges above); and
    • do not contain any confidential business or customer information or that such information is marked for redaction.

  • In appropriate cases, ensure that a confidentiality or protective order is in place to protect any confidential information that falls within the scope of the subpoena’s requests and retain a copy of that order for their records. If no order is in place, counsel should request that one be entered.

When producing documents, counsel must ensure that:

  • All privileged documents are withheld or privileged content is redacted.
  • A privilege log accompanies the production, if required by applicable law.
  • Any confidential business or customer information is redacted or produced in compliance with any confidentiality or protective order in place.
  • The production is stamped with an appropriate confidentiality designation under the applicable protective order, such as the words “CONFIDENTIAL” or “ATTORNEYS’ EYES ONLY.”
  • The production complies with all applicable regulations regarding sharing customer information or other confidential financial information (see Privacy, Confidentiality, and Privilege Issues above).

(For more on producing documents in response to a subpoena in federal court, see Subpoenas: Responding to a Subpoena (Federal) on Practical Law; for a collection of resources on producing documents in federal court, see Responding Parties: Requests for Production of Documents Toolkit (Federal) on Practical Law.)

Prepare Witnesses

Where the subpoena seeks witness testimony, counsel must meet with the witnesses and prepare them to testify. How to approach witness preparation generally depends on whether the subpoena seeks testimony from a corporate representative or a specific employee.

In federal court, for example, a corporate representative must be able to testify to the company’s knowledge on the designated topics, not just the representative’s own personal knowledge (FRCP 30(b)(6)). To accomplish this, the company and counsel often must educate the witness on certain topics listed in the subpoena or deposition notice. By contrast, where a subpoena calls for a specific employee to testify on their own behalf, the employee need only testify from personal knowledge, which may make the employee’s substantive preparation less involved.

Where a subpoena calls for corporate representative testimony, counsel typically should:

  • Work with their business partners to identify the person or persons best suited to testify for the company, typically individuals who have some substantive knowledge on the relevant topic or topics.
  • Research the topics for examination identified in the subpoena.
  • Prepare the designated witness to testify on the company’s behalf, including educating the witness on certain topics, if necessary, using documents or other company information.

Republished with permission. This article, "Subpoena Responses for Financial Institutions," was published in Practice Law The Journal, March 2023 Issue.


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