The government’s lobbying tsar has given the legal sector a clean bill of health after raising concerns over why so few firms signed up to a mandatory register.
Alison White (pictured) says firms are taking their compliance duties ‘very seriously’.
All organisations involved in the business of consultant lobbying, as defined by legislation passed in 2014, have to sign up to the register or risk facing criminal proceedings.
So far six law firms have joined the register to cover them in the event of their having direct contact with government ministers.
Magic circle firm Clifford Chance and alternative business structure PwC Legal were the first law organisations to register. Anthony Gold Solicitors, Cooley UK, Preiskel & Co and Stikeman Elliott (London) LLP have joined the list since the turn of the year.
But with law firms making no effort to hide their public affairs work – indeed, some have dedicated teams – questions have arisen over why so many slipped through the net.
White, registrar of consultant lobbyists, raised concerns in talks with the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
‘Having identified probably 15 or 20 organisations doing this I am in the process of working my way through them and having telephone meetings with them all,’ White told the Gazette.
‘I wanted to establish what arrangements they have with clients and what compliance processes they’ve got.
‘I have been pleased to see all the organisations I’ve spoken to have taken the area of compliance very seriously and have issued advice to their partners.’
White said the defined terms of the legislation – describing consultant lobbying as contact with ministers or permanent secretaries – mean law firms can justify not joining the register.
‘Lots of public affairs work is not about this – they work with MPs or less senior civil servants but don’t interact at the top level,’ she added.