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2013 - A Year in the life of Management and Compliance Consultants


2013 - A Year in the life of Management & Compliance Consultants

As is our tradition at this time of year, we at cpm21 have taken a moment to reflect on 2013 and its various milestones, challenges and controversies for the legal profession. When we wrote our article this time last year, we thought 2012 had been a year of unprecedented change....

2013 began for our clients by their newly appointed COLPs and COFA's assuming their roles to much fanfare and trumpeting by the SRA from January 1st 2013. Some firms had prepared for this by training their Compliance officers and ensuring Compliance plans were in place, but it is a fact that many firms didn't and there are still Compliance officers nearly a year on that don't really understand their duties.

Fortunately for many of them the SRA became distracted by a large issue that faced many solicitors, the issue of Financial Stability.

This issue became urgent for the SRA when North West legal firm Cobbetts went into administration in February of this year. Cobbetts was not the only firm to go into administration, and the SRA soon realised they may have a much larger problem on their hands than they originally realised, particularly with the changes that were brought in as part of LASPO and the removal of the bulk of family legal aid work from public funding and the banning of referral fees in Personal Injury.

The SRA dealt with this by issuing a set of "Good" and "Bad" behaviours to firms to enable them to understand the danger signs of Financial Stability and to issue a survey to firms who had high dependency on income from Personal Injury and Family Legal Aid. The results have been far from encouraging and we get the feeling that the SRA may be sorry they asked...

The next issue to arise for the profession were the cessation of trading of the Professional Indemnity Insurers Balva, which caused many firms problems, particularly with the Assigned Risk Pool becoming defunct. This has led to many firms struggling to obtain cover, and in some cases not being able to.

Conveyancers did not escape the changes in the year. The Law Society saw a dramatic uptake in applications to the Conveyancing Quality Scheme, as it was believed that those firms who didn't apply would lose out on panel membership if they did not obtain membership of the scheme. Of course, given the recent announcements by the Council of Mortgage Lenders about the possible future for their lending panels, membership may only be one criteria for continuing panel membership in 2014.

The Law Society has also tried to get Probate, Wills and Administration Lawyers in on the act by introducing the Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme or WIQS which tried to standardise wills, probate and estate administration practices. Unlike the CQS, this scheme does not have membership of panels dependent on it so the compelling need many firms felt for obtaining CQS membership is not there, so it will be interesting to see how active take up will be. The Law Society has also said up front that this scheme could be subject to visits by their team, something else that may put practitioners off from joining...

Not being content with slashing Legal Aid in Family work, the Ministry of Justice continued their work by announcing a consultation paper "Transforming Legal Aid - delivering a more credible and efficient system." While the consultation paper dealt with more than one aspect of legal aid, one category in particular seemed targeted to bear the brunt of another bout of cuts, that of Criminal Law.

The original consultation paper laid out plans for Price Competitive Tendering across England and Wales, but there was such an outcry by the profession an extended consultation removing Price Competitive Tendering and focusing on a bidding process for Police Station work was introduced. At the time of writing this article, there has been no conclusion drawn from the consultation, and criminal firms face an uncertain future in 2014...

The Legal Ombudsman also decided to make changes in the early part of the year, and now allows clients up to 6 years to complain about their solicitor, as well as allowing them to complain about solicitors who rejected their instructions and wouldn't act for them. Of course, this led to multiple changes to client care letters for firms across England and Wales...

The SRA also introduced a requirement for firms to report their diversity information to them by January 31st 2014. They introduced a similar requirement last year, allowing firms to get personnel to complete an on line questionnaire to provide the data. This year that system was scrapped, and a questionnaire was produced which firms must provide their personnel to complete. When all questionnaires have been completed, firms have to enter the data onto the MySRA system by the deadline above.

And...

As well as reporting diversity data to the SRA, firms for the first time are also required to publish it, making it available to clients on request. Of course, firms have to ensure that it is anonymised to protect the privacy of their personnel and comply with the Data Protection Act, so what the client sees would be very different to what is reported to the SRA.

Finally, as we finish writing this article the news that the Law Society has lost a vote of no confidence over its policy on criminal legal aid reform. Their response is not yet known, but with the profession becoming increasingly disgruntled by the lack of effective representation on their behalf, who knows what will happen next?

Cpm21 - our support work in 2013

With such a frenetic year, we concentrated on supporting our clients for pretty much every aspect covered in this article.

We delivered training courses to 600 fee earners and 200 support staff in subjects such as CQS, WIQS, Lexcel, OFR, Money Laundering, Marketing and Networking, Equality and Diversity, Compliance including COLP and COFA requirements, Criminal Tendering requirements, File Reviews, Client Care & Complaints, Criminal Law; Domestic Violence and many others. In fact we ran 70 courses in total.

As well as this, we continued to provide on-site advice and support to firms in every aspect of their business, including audits against the Lexcel Quality Standard for which we supported just under 50 firms with either an initial audit, or annual maintenance visit.

2013 looks set to be equally challenging, with more changes on the horizon threatening the legal profession.

But rest assured, cpm21 will once again be there to support you.

Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.