SRA: nearly half of firms began COLPs and COFAs process in first month

Barrass: really encouraged by response

Nearly half of all law firms have so far “engaged with the process” of appointing their compliance officers for legal practice and for finance and administration (COLPs/COFAs) since the process went live on 31 May, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has revealed.

With less than four weeks to go until the window to nominate compliance officers closes on 31 July, nearly 30% of firms have completed the process, while the rest have started it, executive director Samantha Barrass told Legal Futures. She said the SRA is “really encouraged” by the response so far and the IT system is working well.

If firms have not nominated by the closing date of 31 July, Ms Barrass said the SRA will have “to consider the approach that will be the most effective in mopping them up as quickly as possible”; she indicated that the decision on “how much of a stick will be wielded” will depend on whether firms have begun but not completed the process, or have not engaged with it at all.

She emphasised that making the nomination is a regulatory requirement, while failure to have a COLP and/or COFA in place for 1 January 2013 will be a breach of the SRA’s authorisation requirements.

Meanwhile, employees of all SRA-regulated firms will be asked to complete an anonymous individual online diversity questionnaire so that the authority can build a picture of diversity in the profession and comply with Legal Services Board requirements, it announced yesterday.

Under LSB guidance published last year, all of the approved regulators should require firms and chambers to conduct a diversity monitoring exercise, asking every individual in their workforce to self-classify against eight characteristics: age, gender, disability, ethnic group, religion or belief, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, and caring responsibilities.

The SRA said it will comply with this by engaging Surveylab, an online survey company specialising in employee engagement and customer satisfaction measurements. Between July and September Surveylab will contact authorised signatories within each firm to provide the number of employees working there. The authorised signatory will then distribute a link to the online questionnaire to each employee for them to complete and submit. Employees are not obliged to do so.

Once the collection has finished, Surveylab will return an anonymous report to the authorised signatory showing a breakdown of all employees according to the specified diversity characteristics. The data will be aggregated so that it shows only the total number of employees for each diversity characteristic but not for each category of employees. The report will be provided confidentially and in accordance with the Data Protection Act so that individuals are not indentified. From next year, all firms will be required to publish the diversity information.

The SRA will publish a report setting out the diversity profile of the profession, and no firms will be identified within it.

The SRA said it feels this approach is the easiest way for both firms and employees to engage and participate in the process.

Mehrunnisa Lalani, SRA director of inclusion, said: “We appreciate this is extra effort for the regulated community, but we hope you will work with us to fulfil this requirement as it brings with it potential benefits. It will provide us with an accurate picture of the diversity profile of the legal workforce, allowing gaps to be identified over a period of time.

“Specifically, returning this data is aligned with principle 9 in the Code of Conduct that says firms must run their business or carry out their role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity.”



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