With the SRA coming under fire from the Westminster and Holborn Law Society for allegedly hauling young solicitors before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in disproportionate numbers for small mistakes, it should serve as a reminder for firms to ensure they have a sufficiently robust compliance structure to protect the firm and its staff.
The reality is that regardless of a law firm’s size and complexity, the regulations apply and must be complied with. The SRA will enforce compliance, and whilst some may question how enforcement is approached, it has to be the case that prevention is better than cure. Whether the action and sanction are overly harsh, ensuring a firm’s staff are aware and trained on what a breach of these rules constitutes and how to act is essential.
Law firms and their COLP have a duty to ensure that their staff understand the regulatory platform that governs them. The COLP should be only too aware that they must ensure those they employ and supervise do not cause or contribute to a serious breach of the codes of conduct. Unless training is provided, a COLP will fall short of their duties and could be left with staff who face action from the SRA.
Training & Structure
For firms to protect themselves and their staff there are three essential ingredients: –
- Policies Control and Procedures (PCP’s) – ensure there is a set of PCP’s in place that is not only up to date and kept up to date but also are bespoke to the firm and reflect the way the firm works. PCP’s must ensure compliance but not go too far and introduce a burden of actions that go beyond the SRA’s expectations. Templated policies may be a shorter way to having procedures, but if they are not bespoke, they will not be fit for purpose.
- Training – provide staff with annual training on the codes of conduct and the policies and procedures the firm has in place to comply with them. Not only set out for the staff what is expected for them in the regulations but also what to do in the event of a breach or an issue arising. Conduct training should form part of a firms annual compulsory training. The size of the firm does not matter, all firms will have policies, control and procedures in place and the staff need to know what they are and how to comply with them. Firms must also ensure their PCP’s keep up to date with the regulations and the best practice. Keeping the PCP’s up to date and keeping staff up to date is a cornerstone of a compliant firm.
- Recording and Advice – The second ingredient is to provide all staff with clear instructions on what to do in the event of a problem or a breach and how to access their compliance officers’ knowledge, advice, and guidance. Ensuring staff know what to do and when protects both the firm and COLP. Providing knowledge on what to report is step 1, telling the staff what to report and encouraging them to report issues immediately is step 2. The 3rd step is to ensure there is access to advice when needed, and finally recording the issues as they arise (and are resolved) in risk and compliance registers.
Only when a firm is able to achieve these two steps are they able to protect the firm itself and the staff and hopefully avoid action being taken by the SRA or, in the event or a reportable breach, that appropriate action has been taken to manage and hopefully minimise any regulatory action taken.
By implementing these 3 vital steps, a firm will protect itself, the COLP and the staff, including all solicitors newly qualified or not.
As part of The Strategic Partners risk and compliance solutions, training for all staff on the codes of conduct and implementing a supervisory structure that complements the firm’s approach and protects staff (and the COLP) is standard.
The Strategic Partner has devised 2 products for law firms:
- The first, https://www.thestrategicpartner.co.uk/law-firmA-support/regulation-and-compliance-including-aml/ provides firms with the necessary Policies Control and Procedures (PCPs) alongside training, supervision structure, an annual independent assessment and reporting. This solution ensures firms and their staff are compliant and remain there. It also makes it clear what to do in the event of a mistake and/or a breach occurs.
- The second, https://www.thestrategicpartner.co.uk/law-firm-support/compliance-administration/ provides an outsource solution for firms where The Strategic Partner not only manage and maintain the risk registers and take reports from all staff (inc Partners) and provides advice on an ongoing basis but also provides a monthly compliance report.
The combination of these two solutions provides a law firm with a robust and cost-effective risk and compliance strategy that ensures staff have access to expert guidance as it is needed.
How we can help
The Strategic Partner provides essential support to law firms. We offer a range of services and consultancy tailored to the Legal sector. We have gained a wealth of knowledge and experience in the overall management of law firms and work with them to achieve profitability, stability, and efficiency. Our goal is to become a valued and respected partner to our member law firms providing high-quality services and solutions at all times.
Download and read the PDF here.