Firms “overlooking compliance implications” of homeworking

Rogers: Firms must take urgent action

Most law firms are planning to formalise hybrid working arrangements for staff but a significant number have yet to deal with all the compliance implications, research has found.

The poll of 3,500 firms by the legal technology division of The Access Group found that 85% plan to offer staff a mix of home and office working as the return to the office intensifies.

However, it also revealed that 40% had not reviewed or updated their anti-money laundering risk assessments.

Firms have to record reviews even when the assessments do not need updating, but the survey said “it is likely the requirements for training, policy, control and procedure updates, supervision, and ongoing monitoring of employees would all have needed updating during the pandemic”.

Some 43% of firms have not fully updated their cyber-security policies since moving to remote working, “which means they have not properly identified the risks of personal IT equipment being used, including virus protection and appropriate system access tools”.

Relatedly, 49% of firms said they had not carried out a data protection impact assessment when moving to remote working, potentially putting client data at greater risk from cyber-crime and data loss, especially if data was being accessed and stored using an employee’s personal IT equipment.

Finally, 22% of the firms failed to review their health and safety assessment when staff were forced to work from their own homes in March 2020, even though they had the same responsibility for people working at home as they did when they were in the office.

Brian Rogers, regulatory director at Access Legal, said: “Although most firms appear to be doing the right things, there are quite a few that are placing themselves, their staff and their clients at significant risk. We urge these firms to take urgent action to ensure they seek help to address the gaps highlighted.

“As well as the compliance issues, there were also evident disparities in competency and supervision arrangements, policies and procedures and business continuity plans.

“With the vast majority of firms looking to make a permanent switch to hybrid working, now is the time to carefully review compliance procedures and ensure that your requirements as an employer are being met.”

Mr Rogers said many firms blamed a lack of time and knowledge, but warned “that isn’t going to be an excuse the Solicitors Regulation Authority accepts”.

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