Here is your fortnightly compliance and risk roundup.
Don’t forget to make sure your firm’s diversity information has been submitted today! In case you missed it last time, our short guide on what you need to do is linked below.
Enjoy the rest of August!
Jon and the team
The SRA’s Equality and Diversity Survey
We know, it only seems like two minutes since you submitted the Financial Survey questionnaire right? But you can’t rest on your laurels, the next mandatory survey is the SRA’s Equality and Diversity survey which you will need to complete by the 18th August. If you haven’t started looking at this yet, we suggest you do so as soon as possible as it can take time to gather information from all your employees. Don’t worry, our blog sets out exactly what you need to do.
The deadline for reporting to the SRA is 18 August.
ICO addresses GDPR ‘myths’
The Information Commissioner has started a useful series of blogs highlighting some of the misconceptions surrounding GDPR.
Why it matters
The overhaul of Data Protection laws is real and must be taken seriously, especially by law firms – who, after all, hold some of the most sensitive personal information imaginable. This is going to involve a thorough understanding of data assets, consents required and security measures.
But there is also a lot of scaremongering going on. These blogs provide some much-needed balance and perspective. The first ‘myths’ identified are:
- The biggest threat to organisations from the GDPR is massive fines
- You must have consent if you want to process personal data
- Firms can’t start planning for new consent rules until the ICO’s formal guidance is published
Keep an eye on the ICO’s blog for further updates – it’s a good one to subscribe to.
There were also a couple of ICO enforcement actions that caught our eye this week:
- London Borough of Islington fined £70,000 for failing to secure personal information on a parking ticket website
- Midwifery assistant prosecuted for unlawfully disclosing patient information
New sanctions prosecution threat
Updated financial sanctions legislation in force this week could lead to lawyers being prosecuted, if they fail to report clients to the Treasury. The new law brings ‘independent legal professionals’ into line with financial services providers.
Why it matters
If there was not enough incentive under the old sanction regime, this week it is clear that you absolutely must do your sanctions checks on overseas clients.
Law Society warns of price war following LAA announcement
The Law Society has raised strong concerns about the effect of price-competitive tendering for certain legal aid contracts (Housing Possession Court Duty Schemes). Central to the Law Society’s objection is that:
There is also some uncertainty about the tendering timetable post-April 2018, making it difficult for legal businesses to plan ahead.
Why it matters
The Law Society has a very good point. There is a parallel to be drawn here with the ongoing price ‘transparency’ agenda, being driven by the Competition & Markets Authority and being enthusiastically followed by the SRA. By forcing firms to publish prices, the market will respond with lower and lower margins. This may make the cost of legal services cheaper, but not necessarily better. The quality of service in any profession must be the first priority.
Do the public really want the cheapest lawyer? Be careful what you wish for.
Record fine for White & Case
The SDT handed down a huge fine for a serious breach of professional conflict and confidentiality rules. The issue came out of a high value commercial claim. The tribunal found that the firm:
2. Allowed instructions to be accepted to undertake further work for clients without causing adequate steps to be taken to ensure the confidentiality of information provided to the firm by clients was protected, and in so doing breached Outcome O(4.4) of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011 and Principle 6 of the SRA Principles 2011;
3. Acted recklessly in respect of the matters set out above.”
The firm was fined £250,000 and the individual partner ordered to pay £50,000.
Other notable disciplinary decisions
- Solicitor struck off for taking old client balances in ‘tidying up’ exercise
- Another struck off (with £70,000 costs order) for allowing a struck-off solicitor to practice at her firm
- Supervising solicitor agrees to leave the profession after conveyancer under his charge acts dishonestly
- Conveyancer rebuked after lending client £30,000 and acting in a potential conflict situation
Date for your diary – 19th September, Bristol
Thinking of buying, selling or merging with another practice? RSM is running a session on ‘Navigating M&A to achieve growth’.
More information and booking here.