Firms yet to lodge their diversity data with the SRA may want to consider online help.

The fact that only a third of firms have so far lodged their diversity data with the deadline imminent clearly highlights the need for careful pre-planning and preparation across all aspects of risk and compliance. These data requirements have been evident for six months. Firms that have dragged their heels may now have a tough job collating everything in time for the end of this month.

The free online tool which Riliance developed in conjunction with The Law Society has been available since July 2013 and so far over 2,500 practices (incorporating nearly 100,000 staff) have taken advantage of this service.   

The diversity product forms part of a wider Riliance risk and compliance software system that has been specifically designed to assist firms in meeting their compliance obligations under outcomes-focused regulation. The principle of being able to build a strong risk and compliance culture within a firm using a purpose-built product is embedded in the Riliance system and vastly improves the efficiency of managing these vitally important areas of the business. Version 2 of Riliance has just been launched, incorporating a number of key enhancements based on feedback from firms which have been using the system for some time.

Riliance has engaged with nearly 3,000 practices over the past two years, which has given us wide and varied experience of the approaches that law firms have taken to adapting to the new regime. Most accept that regulation and compliance is a very positive foundation for achieving best practice and ultimately deliver the best possible service to clients. In return, they can plan for a level of repeat business and build a thriving business.

The time burden of managing these critical areas within a firm varies wildly, depending on the value placed on compliance and how embedded in the culture of the firm the partners want compliance to be. Driving home the message that it is both everyone’s responsibility and obligation has come easier to some than others.

There are of course ‘star adopters’ of the best technology, advice and internal training. They have embraced the OFR regime as change for good. These practices often spend less time dealing with compliance on a daily basis than some of their counterparts in less progressive firms. 

At the outset the ‘fear factor’ for the newly appointed compliance officers for legal practice was a major problem. Allocating adequate time to do the job effectively was often not factored into a firm’s plans. But we have started to see a significant improvement in this area as the market becomes more familiar with the regime.

Nevertheless, there remain many firms which are trying to manage compliance using paper-based processes or spreadsheets, which can be both laborious and unreliable. Moreover, in the case of the collection and collation of diversity data, such methods are wholly unsuitable as they cannot guarantee anonymity for the respondents.

As firms move into year two of the COLP/COFA regime, and activity and engagement from the Solicitors Regulation Authority increases, we are expecting more feedback on what firms need from our products. This has prompted us to provide a full suite of ‘handholding’ compliance support options delivered by our specialists to aid firms in their compliance journey.

Mark Gidge is chief executive of Riliance Software, provider of risk and compliance software for legal practices