The age of the compliance professional - are you ready?

Tracey Calvert discusses the update to the SRA Handbook...

It took me a long time to stop describing the SRA Handbook, when it was launched in 2011, as the new Handbook; sometimes it is hard to believe that we are now on the nineteenth version of this rulebook (and yes, I know that it is not totally made up of rules and not actually a book). Well, now that we are all expected to be familiar with this work, a change has occurred and we need to prepare for new beginnings with a refashioned Handbook (still not a book and now - somewhat amusingly - we are being told it won't be described as a Handbook either).

Regardless of its title, this "Handbook" will be launched next year. This means that we will need to refresh our ideas, processes and protocols, and even our compliance language, to accommodate the regulatory changes thrust upon us. Regulation is constantly moving and never settled. As compliance professionals, we are continually learning and adapting.

One concept that was new in the SRA Handbook 2011 - but which has survived the latest regulatory navel-gazing - is the role of the compliance officers and the compliance function in authorised law firms. This idea that there would be an authorisation condition stipulating that certain members of the firm would be go-betweens, with roles to smooth the interaction between the firm and the SRA, was revolutionary when first introduced in 2011 and most definitely a hard sale; there was an understandable wariness concerning these roles and the regulator's interest in law firm management. There was a feeling in some quarters that this was a fad because, really, what did management matter, and what interest should the regulator have in management, as long as clients received good legal services from good lawyers?

Well, the critics have been proven wrong, and the role of compliance in the well-run firm is the lynchpin to its success in terms of its relationship with the SRA, and indeed with other stakeholders with an interest in the longevity of the business (such as clients, the Legal Ombudsman, the Information Commissioner's Office and the firm's insurers). Good lawyers become even better lawyers when they are working in a law firm which facilitates compliance with regulatory requirements and ethical behaviours. Bad lawyers are quickly identified and rooted out in such an environment.

The SRA has made its expectations clear in the 2018/19 Risk Outlook. It's simply stated; we are told the following: "Solicitors are responsible for meeting high professional standards. The business culture in law firms should reflect this."In practice, this means that the compliance concept cannot be treated as new or a fad or a passing fancy. In my view, we will never go back to any pre-2011 position in terms of how we are expected to run our law firms - or, to use more modern language, how we run our businesses. The compliance function is here to stay, and with that concept it's important to recognise the legal compliance role within the profession. We are living in the age of the compliance professional. For my part, I have seen the rapid maturity of these roles and the role-holders (variously described as head of compliance or risk or ethics, compliance assistants and analysts or similar) in well-run law firms. How did law firms ever operate without a compliance function back in the day?

ICT, part of the Wilmington Group, approached me a few year ago to assist with the development of an accredited training programme for compliance professionals. I am thrilled to be associated with the Advanced Certificate of Legal Compliance, which is now available. As a director of this programme, I have worked with some fabulous compliance professionals who want to be as good as they can in their roles in law firms.

The programme is designed to provide students with the essential knowledge to enhance their understanding of regulation, compliance and ethics, so that they will be better compliance practitioners as a consequence. The subjects covered include:

- The reasons for regulation of legal services - why is there regulatory concern about the way in which we provide services, and why do we need to understand this?

- Why the SRA regulates in a particular style and with specific priorities - why is the SRA more concerned by some things than others, and how should this knowledge be used in practice?

- The practical consequences of risk-based and entity-based regulation - what challenges must we ensure that we are managing and how will this happen?

- How compliance professionals can be truly effective within their organisations - what are the tricks of the trade and what needs to happen?

- Essential ethical knowledge - without the essential subject knowledge, how will you know about what matters? Why this is so?

- Thinking about legal and regulatory duties - how does the compliance function encompass other deal-breaker topics, such as management of anti-money laundering processes and similar?Please do contact me if you would like further information. Alternatively, further details about this programme are available from the ICT website, details of which are posted below.

The ICA Advanced Certificate in Legal Compliance has been designed by legal compliance practitioners to provide a comprehensive overview of: the legal regulatory environment, the role of compliance professionals, their functions and position within the regulatory regime and their relationship with the business and other members of the firm. Awarded in association with the Alliance Manchester Business School, the University of Manchester, the course is suitable for anyone in a compliance or risk management role within a law firm or legal services business in England or Wales. Enhance your specialist knowledge, upskill and gain a recognised industry qualification today by clicking this link.

This article was written by Tracey Calvert, board member of the Legal Compliance Association and director at Oakalls Consultancy Limited and was originally published on the Legal Compliance Association website.