Well, no... If you have achieved and maintained a quality standard such as ISO and Lexcel that’s great, but both of these are management standards which enable you to document your processes and procedures and then monitor their effectiveness. Unless your standard has been specifically adapted to deal with the solicitors’ Code of Conduct requirements, then you need to do more to ensure outcomes-focused compliance.
Whilst policies, procedures and processes are vital to ensure quality and consistency of client service, compliance is more than just a tick-box exercise. Good compliance systems enter the culture of an organisation and become part of the service you provide.
Many of you will have trained all of your staff in outcomes-focused regulation (OFR) requirements, but a recent survey by Legal Eye found that 56% of the firms they surveyed had offered no internal training for staff on issues such as data protection, conflicts of interest, equality and diversity. If you haven’t provided any training in these or other important areas such as undertakings, confidentiality, accounts rules and client care, then that should be a priority.
Training is a start in raising awareness of OFR compliance, but it’s only the beginning of the process. Ensuring that compliance is at the heart of all you do requires an ongoing commitment to keep compliance issues high up the agenda. And whilst the compliance officer for legal practice (COLP) and finance and administration (COFA) will be at the centre of ensuring awareness, they can’t do it on their own.
There needs to be a network of compliance champions who ensure that compliance issues are on team-meeting agendas and who report back to the COLP/COFA with any issues that need attention.
The fact is that compliance issues arise all the time and keeping on top of new issues or identifying trends is key to ensuring that risks are managed. A practice area may be following the current quality system process or procedure, but if risks emerge which are not incorporated into the quality system, then the system becomes out of date and meaningless. So, if areas of the firm do not take part in the compliance review process, COLPs and COFAs need to make sure they act on this if they want to avoid a black hole.
And of course the commitment of the practice’s management to compliance is crucial in ensuring that it becomes part of the fabric of how the firm works. Every partner, director and manager must buy into the compliance culture of the firm. If they don’t, then the work of the COLP/COFA is much harder - if not impossible.
With the 1 January 2013 fast approaching when the compliance officers will take up their new roles (if you have been approved by the SRA that is...!) perhaps the new year’s resolution for all those involved in a law firm should be to embrace compliance and commit to supporting your COLP/COFA.
So when Auld Lang Syne plays out this year, let’s raise a cup to quality and compliance.
Jeanette Lucy is the director for compliance, quality and learning with law firm network LawNet