Compliance Officers and their New Year Resolutions!

The approaching seasonal period is usually a time for reflection and planning. So as this year’s tinsel and turkey subsides, I guess for some there will be some additional thought going into resolutions, especially if you’re in the latest wave of authorised COLPs & COFAs released earlier this week.

So we thought we’d pull together an alternative 12 days to our Christmas list of suggestions:

  • How do you rate with all of your outward facing documentation and information? Is it all fully compliant with the Code of Conduct, especially Chapters 1, 7 and 8, although the other Chapters are equally as important. But don’t forget your other obligations including statutory regulations like Distance Selling, Cancellation of Contracts, Corporate Governance, not to mention things like the EU E- Commerce directive.
  • Being unprepared in 2013 can in itself be construed a material breach by the SRA requiring an immediate report by a dedicated COLP and / or COFA. So for example, not having a credible strategy, or business model as evidenced by a focused Business Plan with accompanying Financial Budgets and Resource Plans is being non-compliant with Chapter 7. That could also extend to the absence of a credible and mandatory Compliance Plan too!
  • For those reliant on Personal Injury work post April 2013 you will already be planning for life after referral fees. If you haven’t already begun the current authorisation process for an Alternative Business Structure you may already have missed that opportunity for a merger with a CMC and an April 2013 start. Either way, if you plan on continuing your existing business model, then perhaps prepare for an early knock from the SRA.
  • On a financial note, be wary of going over agreed credit terms with your suppliers. Whilst you may be cash rich, going beyond agreed or presumed credit terms could result in a supplier reporting you to the SRA, or using the threat to elicit faster payments from you.
  • Reputational Risk has to be high on anyone’s Risk Management agenda in an electronic age. Reputations have been dashed in seconds from an ill thought through web posting, or aggrieved complainant! So have you got effective website, email and social media policies and procedures in place? How are these monitored to ensure any messages are in keeping with those policies and any comments attributable to the firm are approved. After all, the SRA may also be watching, so if they see you are planning a major expansion they could always ring and ask to see your Business Plan to support that message!
  • Are your 3rd party referrals compliant with written agreements in place? Do they permit access for the SRA to your Supplier’s premises and access to their data in whatever form that takes? How do you monitor your Supplier’s quality, compliance and confidentiality? Worth remembering Lawyer to Lawyer referrals fall within this category too!
  • Remember you are authorised and regulated by the SRA and they will go for those it regulates, not perhaps the Supplier, or lead generator who breaches confidentiality or cold calls to gain that all important lead!
  • Outcome 7.8 requires “a system for supervising clients’ matters, to include the regular checking of the quality of work by suitably competent and experienced people”. So if you aren’t currently undertaking File Reviews, then you perhaps need to reflect that as part of a supervision process they assist with identifying issues, including the effectiveness of procedures and the training and development of individuals. However, without corrective actions being addressed, they are a wasted opportunity to take account of the appropriateness of case conduct, CQS implications and other aspects of File, Case and Client / Relationship Management.
  • During File Reviews, what will you do if it is discovered that there is something that would give the client a reason to complain, or worse sue? Since it has to be disclosed to the client and becomes self-reportable to the SRA what can you do to minimise these instances arising?
  • As the COLP and COFA in any organisation how do you gain the trust and respect of your colleagues to encourage them to bring their concerns to your attention before they become “material”? How do you quickly and effectively dismantle the barriers of any “blame culture” and replace them with co-operation, teamwork and a documented audit trail?
  • How will client expectations be set, measured and revised as their matter is progressed, minimising the potential for a client to complain? What needs to change to steer complaints to you and not directly to the LeO who will investigate anything arriving with them even when the complaint hasn’t already been made to you directly?
  • Despite all of the above, worth remembering the SRA want to work with firms to avoid tougher action later. So whilst an early report to the SRA might be a worry, it might be far better proposition than the unexpected knock on the door, or a material failing report!

If all of the above is beginning to create discomfort and indigestion then the team at Legal Eye can help ease your discomfort. We’ll work with you to ensure compliance and optimise your performance in 2013 and beyond. Our extensive and thorough knowledge of the law and regulations will ensure your law firm is compliant and your processes sound.

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