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What's Hot in August

Well, if you’re reading this and not on holiday outside the UK, it’s sad to say the answer is certainly not the local temperature and pleasant weather conditions.

Rather, if you’re still in the country, this article is about the things that legal firms should either be doing or considering right about now…

Diversity Data Collection and Submission

So, we’ll start with the first, and most immediate requirement, and that’s the submission of diversity data to the SRA, which closes at the end of this week, specifically the 18th of August. In order for you to submit your data, you would have needed to send out the SRA Diversity Questionnaire to all personnel in the firm, received them back, and if submitting on line, then collated them and submitted them. You would have had to enter the number of people who did not respond (after all, they are not mandatory to complete and some personnel find them invasive) and whether you had “published” the information or not. By published, the SRA expects some sort of summary to have been produced, with conclusions based upon the analysis.

If you didn’t want to submit the data on the SRA portal, then there was also an option to send all received diversity questionnaires to the regulator by mail, and let them enter the data for you.

After submitting via either method, the next diversity data collection exercise will take place in 2019.

Anti-Money Laundering

As we write this article, it is not quite two months since the Money Laundering Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 came into force, and we are finding many of our clients have still not responded to their new obligations. We’ve had many a conversation with Money Laundering Reporting Officers up and down the country along the lines of “New AML Risk Assessment? What new AML Risk Assessment?”

In case you’re an MLRO and also don’t know anything about this, then you should know one of the requirements under this new regulation is to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment against all your firms systems, policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Regulation. Any “gaps” found must have actions put in place to close them and ensure compliance.

It’s also worth noting that the SRA have once again named Money Laundering as one of their Risk Issues in this year’s SRA Risk Outlook, and they go on to say “any action we take in relation to breaches of the new regulations will be proportionate and in accordance with our enforcement strategy.”

As this is identified in their Risk Outlook, if your firm is a Lexcel firm, then as well as the MLRO responding to their obligations, it needs to be responded to in the firm’s Compliance Plan too…

SRA Risk Outlook 2017/2018

As mentioned, the SRA published this year’s Risk Outlook in 2017, and it’s a useful document to use when compiling a Compliance Plan. This year’s version has one new issue identified around “questionable investment schemes” and some changes of emphasis on some of the other issues that also featured in last year’s Outlook. If you’re not sure what investment schemes they mean, the ones they include in the Risk Outlook are;

  • New Build property abroad – often described as “Off Plan”
  • Hotel Room Leasing
  • Bank Instrument Trading
  • Carbon Credits
  • Diamond Trading

Emphasis changes include a widening of “Standards of Service” which while still emphasising the impact of poor service on vulnerable people now provides examples of wider poor service issues and which law categories show up the most in first tier complaints.

Any guesses which ones?

Straight in at number one is Residential Conveyancing, followed by Family Law at number two and Wills and Probate at number 3. This is very similar to last year’s Outlook and it might be wise to review your own firm’s complaints and customer surveys in those areas to see if there are any indications that you may not be providing the service that you think you are or your customers expect.

Another emphasis change is with the issue of Independence and Integrity, and the SRA are receiving rising reports of a lack of integrity regarding solicitors. This may in part be linked to recent high profile issues with two services in particular that have attracted criticism, Payment Protection Insurance and Holiday Sickness Claims. They cite issues of concern for these as;

PPI;

  • Acting without investigating whether there is a valid claim
  • Failing to properly identify clients or confirm client instructions
  • Submitting claims in the knowledge that the client was not sold payment protection insurance
  • Charging disproportionate fees and not notifying clients of the Financial Ombudsman Service

Holiday Sickness Claims

  • Coaching holidaymakers to make claims
  • Improper Advertising for Claims Services
  • Paying Prohibited referral fees
  • Cold Calling

Again, if your firm is involved in either of these activities, it would be wise to make sure that it is not falling foul of these issues.

SRA Competence Framework

Finally, let’s talk about October.

Yes, that’s right, October. We know it’s August, but we also know that you’re so busy that it will be upon us seemingly in moments.

Of specific interest in October will be that it will be the first time that the COLP will have to sign a declaration of Competence for all solicitors in a firm after a year of the new SRA “Competence Framework” which involved no logging of CPD courses provided by CPD training providers. As COLP, it might be wise to begin the process of verifying that solicitors have actually ensured their continued competence and checking what evidence they have to support it…

Well, that’s enough for now.

Just a reminder, if you need support or training for any of the issues we’ve mentioned in this eshot, feel free to get in touch.

Now, back to the rain…