The Law Society is to pilot an initiative that will provide advice to compliance officers for legal practice (COLPs) and then stand by the COLP if it is then challenged by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The society has long criticised the SRA for refusing to provide ‘safe harbour’ advice that law firms can act on in the knowledge that there will be no sanctions if they do so and something still goes wrong – the new compliance reference group (CRG) is the society’s attempt to offer the best it can.
The CRG – which is being piloted with the top 100 firms – will comprise around 15 COLPs from top firms who will deal with enquiries from other COLPs where neither the SRA nor Law Society guidance has provided an answer.
The CRG will provide a “practical interpretation of what seems to be the most appropriate action given the state of knowledge at the time in light of the code of conduct, authorisation rules or any other part of the SRA Handbook”, said Law Society chief executive Des Hudson yesterday. This will be in the name of the society, with the members of the group remaining anonymous.
Chancery Lane will then “put its money where its mouth is”, he added – if an individual or firm follows advice from the CRG and subsequently finds that action is being considered or taken against them by the SRA, the Law Society will “stand by” them.
This could take the form of lobbying the SRA, getting involved in any formal regulatory process against them by the SRA and putting forward the society’s view on the issue for use before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in appropriate matters, facilitating or assisting with further advice, providing further information, or providing PR assistance.
Mr Hudson said: “If it works we plan to roll it out across all of our members and all firms and for COFAs as well. Member services like these put the Law Society right where it should be – offering concrete support to our members at the heart of the legal services market.”
All potential COLPs in top 100 firms can put themselves forward to be a member of the CRG and Mr Hudson said the society received “a phenomenal response” when it sent out a call for volunteers last week.