The nitty gritty

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17 October 2012

Posted by Richard Hinton, business development director, Decision Insight Information Group, of which Legal Futures Associate SearchFlow is part. The first part of this blog was published last week

Hinton: you’d be surprised how many client-care letters are not compliant

When it comes to processes and formal audits, the natural tendency for anyone is to put off analysing and understanding what you do and don’t do, until you really have to. That’s the point of deadlines, right?

Well, compliance controls are designed so that they are a permanent part of operating culture, not just when you stand by your beds for inspection. This is certainly the case for the requirements under the SRA Handbook revision and cannot be taken lightly.

What’s in a word?

Correspondence between law firm and client is the lifeblood of the transaction. The client must be crystal clear on where they stand, each party’s obligations and the rules under which the engagement is taking place. All common sense – treating customers fairly, transparency, terms and conditions. We’ve been here before, surely?

You’d be surprised how many client-care letters remain devoid of compliant Financial Services Authority/insurance paragraphs, referral agreement arrangements, distance-selling processes, and so on. Failure to meet these inclusions precisely now immediately propels a law firm into deep water as a result of the Code of Conduct and the Solicitors Accounts Rules.

Assuming your compliance officer for finance and administration is established and up to speed, do they know where to start on the simple matter of correspondence compliance? The right words need to go in the right places consistently and relevant to the context of the engagement.

Pride in your people

People buy people in any transaction, but they also buy your approach and the quality of how you manage and protect your most precious resource. Having a detailed equality and diversity policy that clearly indicates how you are managing your risk and a process of control both internally and with recruitment agencies is vital. Are you managing the team’s performance – not just day to day, but through ongoing training and development? Not just junior members but senior partners also?

For anti-money laundering protection, new and existing clients must be vetted appropriately, together with robust processes that minimise the risk of exposure to fraudulent activity – whether ID theft, client account management. This also protects your team.

Equally, the minefield of social media exposes fresh risks that partners have not had on their radar before – do you have a concrete policy that employees are clear about? Do you have a specific view on use and who is authorised to speak on your behalf, and about what?

Policies and procedures aren’t meant to be a bureaucratic swamp that distracts from the core business – they are there to demonstrate your rigour, quality and professionalism. The bar has been raised and you must respond if you feel that you haven’t already done so.

SearchFlow’s 2012 autumn seminar series provides solicitors with the compliance tools they need. There is one remaining session in London – click here for more details. Our partner, Legal Eye, offers an essential health check covering these items and more to get solicitors quickly towards full compliance


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