In Industry Insights

As society starts to reopen, law firms, like every other business, have to adapt to new ways of working.

Legal News, in partnership with Cardiff & District Law Society, recently published a fascinating piece of research on how solicitors are feeling about returning to the office (‘How are you really?’). 

Researchers invited the Welsh legal sector to share their experiences of home working, wellbeing during the pandemic, and desires for future working arrangements. 

The majority (73%) say they would prefer a mix of home and office working.

Over 50% feel anxious about returning to the office. Only 3% say they want to be back in the office every day. 

Similar results are likely across England and Wales.

Remote working poses compliance challenges

If law firms move towards a hybrid work environment, the compliance function needs to keep up.

‘The office’ serves a time honoured purpose. It is a place for people with a shared mission to congregate, collaborate and share ideas. 

It’s where junior team members learn and develop. After all, there is a reason trainee solicitors traditionally sat in the partner’s office. 

A conversation here, an overheard phone conversation there. They all add to the firm’s combined ‘hive mind’.

The office also helps supervisors manage people and check they are following processes.  

Pre-pandemic, the COLP would have picked up on developing compliance issues much more easily. Now they have to manage risk with one hand behind their back.

Supervision and working from home

It is a regulatory obligation for law firms to put in place ‘appropriate supervision’ systems. So how should the COLP and compliance team manage risk effectively in a world of remote work?

The Law Society has published excellent guidance on this topic (‘Supervision: good practice for remote supervision of junior staff and trainee solicitors’).

But perhaps the first thing that should come to mind is file reviews. 

File reviews are the oldest tool in the compliance toolbox. For a very good reason – they are effective! (Not to be confused with ‘popular’). 

Even if a firm has the best compliance systems on paper, what’s the point if nobody follows them? File reviews are your way to test how well systems are working.

Reviewing files should be a core part of your compliance controls. They will give you a good idea of what staff are working on, service levels, how cases are progressing, and so on. They will not catch every issue, but having a visible system naturally raises standards and reduces risk.

Are file reviews an onerous task? Absolutely, and let’s face it – not many people relish the job. Which is why most firms with good intentions quickly fall behind their best laid plans. 

This needs to be tackled. Remote working multiplies the likelihood of mistakes. Insurers are already asking about firms’ remote working procedures on PII renewal. That should give you a clue about how seriously they take this.

Getting an objective view

It is no coincidence that more and more firms are outsourcing file reviews. There are huge benefits in having an external pair of eyes quality checking live files. It is a resource-efficient approach and helps to keep file reviews on track.

Cloud based case management software now makes this a realistic option. Some systems even offer free ‘auditor’ licences.

Those working solely with paper files are at an immediate disadvantage. Although getting a file auditor into the office is still an option (restrictions permitting), you are relying on your remote team keeping those files up to date. If Covid hasn’t persuaded you to invest in decent case management software, then nothing will.

The benefits of outsourced file reviews

  • Takes a non-chargeable task away from your team (it often pays for itself)
  • Your auditor will make sure the file reviews actually happen (or they won’t get paid)
  • You’ll benefit from experienced auditors who can spot good (and bad) practices a mile off, and can benchmark you against other firms
  • Regulators and insurers can see you are investing in compliance
  • Potential problems can be detected early
  • Trends and patterns with departments or individuals can be tracked month by month
  • The ‘panopticon’ effect can be very effective to drive up standards
  • File reviews add to your firm’s compliance audit trail
  • Monthly file review reports are essential management information
  • You can demonstrate a good compliance culture to your team and clients

Now is the time to get your file reviews in order. Compliance and remote working have something in common: neither is going away any time soon!

Contact us for more information.

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