Who on earth would want to be a compliance officer for legal practice (COLP)? The position comes with plenty of responsibility as a point of contact between the firm and the SRA, in particular reporting any ‘material failure’. This may necessarily lead to conflict, unless everyone involved understands the role and the potential consequences of getting things wrong.

The role (along with that of compliance officer for finance and administration) came to be in 2011 and is likely to stay with us. COLPs are mandatory whether a firm has one or 50 partners and, arguably, larger firms will want and be able to have more systems in place. The Law Society’s note gives some guidance for smaller firms.

The main issues for any firm are finding the right person with the necessary skills and abilities and (equally important) supporting that individual by making sure that everyone understands the job.

Author: Michelle Garlick

£59.95, Law Society Publishing

This book is a toolkit complete with draft policies, checklists and procedures, all on a CD. It includes a suitability test, draft job description checklist for new COLPs, guidance on ensuring compliance and precedents on how to report problems. There is a section with examples of breaches, including mislaying a laptop, sending a document to the wrong client and failure to comply with court directions.

According to the Society’s very helpful practice note, the SRA has made statements to the effect that COLPs and COFAs will not be used as ‘sacrificial lambs’ where there is a lack of firm-wide compliance: ‘Rather, the SRA sees compliance officers as the formal points of contact for compliance in a practice. While the managers of a practice continue to bear the ultimate responsibility for a practice’s compliance, compliance officers may also face regulatory action personally where they fail to meet their responsibilities’.

What I have not been able to find out is how this works in practice. No doubt the jury is still out. COLPs will rightly expect their colleagues to fully support their role.  

David Pickup is a partner at Pickup and Scott Solicitors, Aylesbury