6 ways to underpin compliance work at your law firm

As compliance professionals, we must ensure that our employees are able to work in an environment that is compatible with regulatory and ethical standards. Tracey Calvert, board member of the Legal Compliance Association and director at Oakalls Consultancy Limited, shares 6 actionable ways to support legal compliance work at your law firm...

Social media is full of many things I really do not need to know – pictures of other people’s dinners and insights into edited versions of their lives, and countless different “inspirational” stories, poems and quotations. I normally spend nanoseconds zipping through my own social media accounts, and – if truth be told – getting rather cross with myself for spending even that amount of time in that way.

Recently, however, one quotation on my media streams did make me stop in my tracks and reflect a little. It came from Richard Branson – not someone I normally think about very often, but his comments on this occasion made so much (obvious) sense, they got me thinking.

You may have heard this before. His quotation is simply this: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” 

Of course, this is right. It occurs to me that this sentiment expresses what should truly be at the heart of the compliance programmes in our law firms. If we put our people first, supporting them to do the right thing, this has to be a positive contribution the client experience. Yet we do not often phrase our arguments to promote compliance in this way. Maybe we should.

It is important that we create the right environment for our colleagues. This is a workplace in which we make regulatory requirements clear and facilitate the ability to meet ethical standards. It is an environment which is collegiate in nature, where individuals feel supported so that they will be able to behave in a way that means that our clients are well cared for.

Perhaps the fact that this isn’t the automatic order should not be a surprise. We take our lead from the SRA, and the regulator does not say this. Instead the SRA’s language is very consumer-centric. We are told we must treat our clients fairly and client care is currently the first chapter in the SRA Code of Conduct. You would be forgiven for thinking that as long as we focus on the client experience and put them first, everything else will fall into place. It’s no wonder that, with this type of emphasis, it’s commonplace for colleagues to misunderstand all the duties by which they will be judged.

Unfortunately, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal records contain too many depressing stories where employees have done the wrong thing to the detriment of both themselves and their careers and for their clients. Directly or indirectly, there is a connection with the culture in which they work.

The forces that prevent them from acting properly can come from commercial pulls, peer pressure, lack of empathy and lack of effective mentoring supervision, and even from the clients themselves. Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of the non-negotiables. As compliance professionals we need to provide an antidote to these pressures. We need to ensure that we are able to deliver the right support network. I’d suggest the following mantras should underpin compliance work in the firm:

  1. Staying authorised is essential – that requires everyone to understand why regulation matters and to play their part in maintaining a good relationship with the SRA;
  2. We should constantly be monitoring our actions to ensure that we do not act illegally or unethically;
  3. Nothing should be used as an excuse to act in a way that would place the firm’s regulated status, or our own behaviours, under scrutiny and a good firm will support their employees to display the right regulatory and ethical behaviours;
  4. Governance and reporting lines should be transparent;
  5. Supervisory roles are a crucial lynchpin in keeping the firm’s ethos alive; and
  6. No one will know all the answers, all the time. No one will be perfect all the time – it’s essential to ask for help.

This article was written by Tracey Calvert, board member of the Legal Compliance Association and director at Oakalls Consultancy Limited. Calvert will also be speaking about The European Insurance Distribution Directive and outlook for risk and compliance at the Risk and Compliance for Law Firms conference, 29-30 January 2019, London.