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2018 – the State of the Solicitors Profession A Year in Review

In our pre-Christmas article last year and the year before, we talked about the EU and of course – the “B” word. Did you know if you say the B word three times out loud to yourself in a mirror, Theresa May will appear to tell you there is no need for a plan B?

It may be this time next year the question will be “Theresa who…?”

Anyway, enough of that. We usually pose the question at this time of year for solicitors firms, what will 2018 be remembered for?

Well, if we start with the regulator, the SRA pushed through its’ “price transparency” reforms, and also its “looking to the future reforms,” both of which appeared to be fiercely unpopular with the profession. At the time of writing this article, the deadline for publishing fees on websites has passed, and the new “digital badge” for regulated firms has been released. So the question is…how long before we see firms on Gocompare, Comparethemarket or Confused.com for such things as conveyancing fees?

We can just picture the meerkats persuading some new homebuyers to get their main courses at a restaurant for free if they’ve taken out a conveyancing service after using their comparison site…

So what else happened in 2018?

Where should we start?

Cybercrime – The profession continued to face an all-out assault by criminals and criminal organisations seeking to defraud them or their clients of money via scams, social engineering, email modification and other assorted confidence tricks. Many firms have responded to this by gaining the government backed Cyber-essentials accreditation, an accreditation which is highly desired as part of the Law Society’s Lexcel Legal Practice Quality Mark, V6.1. The battleground has shifted since last year however, where the majority of cyberattacks were aimed at conveyancing. The last SRA Risk update included a warning for firms to beware that other services were now being targeted, such as Probate.

Anti-Money Laundering Regulation – Requirements for the Annual firm wide risk assessment, procedures for reporting on Criminal Finances, including Tax evasion and reporting to the Office for Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) were also included in the new version of Lexcel which came into effect from November 1st 2018.

Civil Legal Aid Tender – Firms who had secured a tender were required to submit their verification documents to the Legal Aid Agency. As this requirement included information about accreditation to quality standards such as the SQM and Lexcel by a set date, many firms had to pull forward audits to ensure their certificates were in place by the submission date.

GDPR – We’re sure that nobody working in the profession will forget the frenzy of work required for the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation which came into force on the 25th of May 2018. Nearly every business in the country was bombarded with information on the subject and what their requirements would be. For legal firms it meant new policies on handling personal data, privacy notices for clients displayed on their websites (or in printed form for those that didn’t have any), employee privacy notices, new client care and/or terms of business clauses, appointment of a Data Protection Supervisor/Manager/Liaison (everything except a Data Protection Officer…)

It also seemed like there was a GDPR expert hiding behind every bush…

Insurance Distribution Directive - In October, the new Insurance Distribution Directive (IDD) came into force for legal firms, with yet another change to client care letters. You know the one…”we are not regulated by the FCA, however…”

The cpm21 year…

For us, some things remained the same in terms of our services, while we responded to other requirements related to what our clients needed. We still supported hundreds of firms for the Annual Lexcel audits crossing over from the previous version of Lexcel V6, to Lexcel V6.1. In some cases we responded to drastically reduced timescales in order to meet the Civil tender requirements for contract verification documents.

We did the same for those firms who needed Specialist Quality Mark (SQM) support to meet the verification deadline.

CPD has been gone for a while now, but we still trained over a thousand solicitors and support staff on a variety of topics. One of the main areas of training this year was – yes, you guessed it – GDPR. We also supported firms for implementing GDPR with new Information Management and Security Policies, Client and Employee privacy notices, client care and terms of business amendments, and a range of supporting templates and pro-formas.

Another area that saw a lot of demand for training was our Legal Aid Supervision course, a mandatory requirement for those solicitors who needed to be qualified as Supervisors for the Civil tender…again in time for the verification process.

Our Professional Skills Course saw another two cohorts of trainee solicitors provided with the mandatory training they need to complete before becoming authorised to practice…

We continued to conduct file reviews, well over a thousand completed as part of our outsourced file review service. For some firms this was a continuation of the service which has had beneficial effects by reducing corrective actions on files for their fee earners, which in turn reduces complaints and indemnity notifications, a massive benefit in today’s stringent professional indemnity market.

We helped firms respond to the risks outlined by the SRA in their July 2018 Risk Outlook, normally by examining their systems, policies and procedures, identifying gaps and helping them develop responses in their Compliance Plans.

To help firm’s with their requirements under the new SRA Price Transparency Rules, we developed a product where firms answered some questions on a template and we then created the code and web pages to put what is needed for compliance onto their web-sites.

And of course, we supported firms with their general SRA requirements, including when the SRA decided it wanted to audit them…

2019 – The shape of things to come…

We’re already preparing for some key milestones for 2019…

Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) – We predicted a response to criticism of the Law Society in 2017 alleging that the scheme is not robust or audited effectively. It didn’t materialise in 2018 but a recent announcement by the Law Society confirmed the CQS scheme will “relaunch” and member firms will see the Law Society instigating on site audits of CQS members to demonstrate their compliance to the accreditation… with the danger of non-compliance resulting in revocation of membership and removal from lender panels…

The SRA Code of Conduct 2019 – We mentioned the SRA have persuaded the Legal Services Board to allow a change to the code of conduct which will allow individual solicitors to work outside of a regulated firm. This will be achieved by a reduction in the requirements of the existing code, coupled with a split so that regulated firms will have a code of conduct, and individual solicitors have a code of conduct.

The SRA will release the code in 2019, possibly April 2019, and wherever a firm’s office manual mention specific Outcomes or Indicative Behaviours, they will need to be changed to the new references.

Diversity Data Collection – 2019 is also when the next diversity data collection is meant to take place following the SRA’s change in data collection frequency to every two years. Look out for the email asking you to issue questionnaires and enter the data onto MySRA…

11 Years of support which will always be there for you

We’re proud of our record in supporting solicitors with their regulatory and management support needs, and 2018 was our 11th year of doing so. If you’re one of our clients, or a client of the future, you can continue to rest easy in the knowledge that we will continue to provide the support you need to navigate the continuous complexities of running a legal firm and the changes and challenges to come.

You can see that we’re already considering what firms will need next, and in these times of constant change we’ll leave you with the one message;

“We’re still there for you.”

Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year from the cpm21 team. We’ll see you in 2019.