All SRA regulated law firms must have a Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (‘COLP’) in place. The COLP must be a manager or employee, as defined by the SRA Glossary, and formally approved into this role. Some firms have adopted a tick-box approach to the role of COLP by allocating it minimal time. However, these firms should take into account that if things did go wrong and compliance was not achieved, the SRA will turn to your COLP for answers.
For those COLP’s currently in the role, what are the key requirements? We have outlined below five simple tips to get you started.
1.Know the Rules
The first thing you should be doing is taking into account the SRA Standards and Regulations. Since November 2019 two separate Codes of Conduct, one for firms and one for solicitors, have been in force. The Standards also contain key requirements that would be relevant to the COLP. For example, do you carry out work that falls within scope of the SRA Transparency Rules? Are you considering making management and ownership changes to your firm? Do you operate a client account?
2. Policies and Procedures
You will need to ensure that your firm, depending on its size and nature, has appropriate polices and procedures in place. An office manual is usually a good place to start, annexed to which should be your key policies. If things did go wrong, the SRA could question you on whether that policy was in place and, more importantly, was it followed?
3.Monitoring and Implementation
You could have the best polices in the world but if nobody is reading them then they aren’t worth the paper they are written on. All polices should be circulated to staff when they join the firm. We also recommend that staff then refresh themselves with these polices at least once every 12 months and/or when there has been a major change in regulations. As part of staff performance development plans, an annual declaration confirming all polices have been read and understood is also a good idea.
The SRA statement of solicitor competence defines the continuing competences that are required from all solicitors. This can be evidenced through a number of ways, which includes staff training. The COLP should take the lead on training and be able to identify any gaps in knowledge.
Most COLP’s also have conflicting duties, which could include fee earning and wider business management. These time pressures often result in the COLP role being left at the bottom of the pile. This will not go down well with the SRA during an investigation into your firm, so consider additional support for the role. Some firms will appoint a Deputy COLP, and others will work with third party consultants for additional support.