The SRA’s Compliance Conference was held last week, and we were in enthusiastic attendance.
We have put together a summary of the event (see below).
It struck us that when you stand back, there’s an awful lot of change coming our way. A complete overhaul of the SRA rules. Solicitors practising in unregulated firms and price transparency looking more certain. SQE. Money Laundering Regs bedding in. GDPR around the corner. Tax evasion crackdown…
On that theme, there are three SRA consultations open at the moment – details below. Each one could have a major impact on the profession, so make sure you have your say (a recurring theme at the conference).
Also this week: LeO’s top tips on dealing with complaints, the SRA’s proposal to list disciplinary sanctions and the Law Society’s gloomy forecast for the legal service sector.
Finally – our compliance LinkedIn group is now live. It’s a great place to read about real life compliance scenarios, ask a question, or share some knowledge. The group is in private mode at the moment (invitation-only). You can request an invitation below.
All the best
Jon and the team
SRA’s Compliance Officer Conference 2017
NCA: solicitors not reporting money laundering suspicions
Donald Toon, Director of the National Crime Agency, gave the following shot across the bow at the SRA Compliance Conference:
He said that it is notable that the NCA often receives suspicious activity reports from financial institutions, but not from the lawyers acting in the same transaction. Of the 420,000 SARs received by the NCA last year, only 3500 were from law firms.
Why it matters
According to Toon, solicitors are a crucial source of information on how criminals hide their assets. Failing to make reports will result in more firms coming unstuck. Don’t forget that the reporting regime is your defence to a money laundering offence.
Sorry seems to be the hardest word
The LeO advice is ‘Don’t be afraid to apologise’. Rather than using phrases such as ‘I’m sorry you feel this way’ or ‘I’m sorry you have felt the need to complain’, the complaints Ombudsman says solicitors should give genuine apologies more often.
Why it matters
Most people would agree that an apology is in order when things go wrong, so why aren’t we better at it? Sometimes we fear admitting fault and opening ourselves (or insurers) up to something more nasty. Sometimes a valid complaint is mixed up with complete gibberish, and it becomes difficult to disentangle the real issue. Other times, sadly we are just too used to being adversarial and defensive, and we feel we have to fight our corner. Try and put yourself in the shoes of the complainant – would you have been satisfied with the service they received?
Register of disciplinary sanctions
As part of it’s ambition to provide more information to the public, the SRA is looking into publishing details of complaints and disciplinary sanctions. It does of course already do this to a degree as it publishes some enforcement actions and disciplinary rulings on its website. The proposals will however see a more accessible digital register that brings basic information on firms and individuals together.
Why it matters
Regulatory decisions are largely a matter of public record, and it seems only right that enforcement information should be easily accessible. Searching for enforcement action on the SDT website is pretty challenging. As things stand, a client would need to know a solicitor has been sanctioned in order to find out information about it.
It does of course mean that getting into trouble will be even more damaging to reputation and careers.
Legal sector forecast
The Law Society has produced a rather downbeat forecast on the legal services sector. The main points raised are:
- Volume of housing transaction is likely to decline
- Employment in the sector continued to fall
- Employment in the sector will be increasingly affected by automation of legal service function. The law society estimates that employment could be 20% less in 2048 due to automation.
Legal tech is certainly on the march. This week Keoghs launched it’s new AI lawyer called Lauri, and the entrepreneur behind the ‘DoNotPay’ legal chatbot received $1.1m from Silicon Valley investors, with the modest aim of making the law free to all. Josh Browder told Legal Futures:
Why it matters
Nobody can predict the future, but most lawyers acknowledge that a legal tech revolution is coming. It will undoubtedly change the profession in ways that we have probably not even considered yet.
Is the Law Society’s 20% figure a little optimistic, even? There will certainly be challenges to what it means to be a lawyer. The human may become more of a relationship manager, a deliverer of good and bad news, a hand-holder, a project analyst, supporting the machines working in the background. These are different and arguably more valuable skills than ‘knowing the law’. Likewise, advocacy, interviewing, advising, persuasive writing, empathy – these are skills that people excel at. Machines, not so much.
Open SRA consultations
There are three SRA consultations currently open. We thought it would be useful to summarise them, as there has been so much going on recently, it would be easy for them to pass by un-noticed. It would be a shame to lose the opportunity to have your say on issues which will affect your practice.
Closes 20 December 2017
This consultation looks at the SRA’s proposals to require firms to publish prices, a description of the services they offer and information on regulatory protections available. There is also a proposal for the SRA to publish complaints data.
Closes 20 December 2017
This follows on from the consultation in summer 2016. It looks at further changes to the handbook, revised enforcement strategy and arrangements for the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). It also includes the rules to implement the policy to free up solicitors to provide non-reserved legal services outside regulated firms.
Closes 20 November 2017
This looks at regulatory arrangements that are needed to comply with the Insurance Distribution Directive (IDD). It will replace the current rules around ‘insurance mediation’ work.
Best of the rest
NEW LINKEDIN GROUP
We are excited to announce that we have opened a new LinkedIn group called ‘COLP and COFA Network from Jonathon Bray Legal Services‘. This is a shared space to discuss compliance scenarios and frequently asked questions. It’s already populated with some real-life (anonymised) scenarios we have dealt with recently.
We will be inviting a small cohort initially, in order to get the conversations going. If you would like to be included, please click the button below.
Your first job when you enter the group is to ask a burning compliance question!
- Paralegal James Pickles was made subject to a section 43 order in 2015 for sending precedent documents to his home email address. On 20th October, the SRA considered that there was no longer sufficient risk to warrant the continuation of the order against Mr Pickles and the section 43 order was revoked.
- Solicitor Victor Amadigwe was rebuked and directed to pay a financial penalty of £1,200 for misrepresenting to an expert that he had instructed him on a conditional fee agreement to delay payment of the expert’s professional fees.
- Chartered Legal Executive Dawn Plant was given a section 43 order for amending three clients’ wills appointing herself as an executor and also a beneficiary without advising her clients to take independent legal advice.
- Administrative assistant Melissa Sidhu was given a section 43 order and a financial penalty of £2,000 for misappropriating £6,117.
- Michael Lloyd Wilson was struck off the roll by the SDT. He was a director of a company called Global Wine Investments Limited, a vintage wine investment scam. In most cases investors did not receive any wines. Mr Wilson was found to have laundered at least £100,000. Investor losses totalled £360,000. He was convicted and jailed for three years in 2016.