By Leah Darbyshire, Head of the Legal Compliance Association and Head of Events at ARK
Compliance learning sounds straightforward. There are rules and regulations to learn and once you know those it is simply a case of applying them to the realities of practice.
But most legal services compliance officers know it often isn't quite as simple as that. The SRA's intention to liberalise and deregulate can leave legal services businesses bereft - unsure of the detail underneath the rules and when and when not to report a material breach.
Learning from scenarios
The regulator has been consistent in saying that firms will ‘know' when something needs to be reported. But scenario based discussions at conferences, held by ARK over the five years since Outcomes Focused Regulation (OFR) was introduced, have shown that rarely do all the eight legal compliance officers seated around a cabaret table agree on what constitutes a material breach and what doesn't.
The real value in such discussions, I believe, lies in the reasons behind the differences. Not just recognising that different compliance officers approach dilemmas differently but in understanding why some would choose a particular course of action over another; under their own interpretation of the rules.
Sometimes this can go deeper than the letter of the rules. We've written a lot for our members about the role that different personal moral values can play. Someone's response to an ethical scenario can also come down to how they see the role of the regulator, as compared with the normal rule of law. e.g. in the case where a solicitor has been involved in criminal activity after hours.
The ‘opposite view' is usually where the most valuable learning can be found. Your peer might have brought into consideration factors that you hadn't previously considered relevant. So next time you face a similar scenario in your own firm those additional factors might jump into mind. Likewise, there will probably be facets you raise during the discussion that encourage others to take a broader view once back at the office, remembering that there is no competitive advantage in compliance.
Scenarios and stories bring the letters of the rules alive, which is useful in compliance where there are no ‘L' plates - red or green. Unless, that is, you have been fortunate enough to shadow a COLP whilst they have been tackling real scenarios in your firm. But for the first COLP, or the COLP nominated whilst on annual leave (as the old joke goes), a baptism of fire will take place as the first live issue hits their desks.
Our research shows that stories and scenarios also help to make fee earner training stick, in exactly the same way. So please do take ARK conference scenarios ‘home' to run through them with your teams and fee-earners in your own firms.
Opportunities to practice
If you represent a small firm, you can road test your interpretation of the SRA Accounts Rules, and get up to date on proposed changes with, compliance expert and LCA author, Jo Morris at our first Regulatory compliance for small law firms and alternative business structures conference which will be held on Thursday 17th March in London.
In-house lawyers can also benefit from a scenario based discussion on ethical dilemmas involving independence, which will take place at our first SRA Regulatory compliance for in-house lawyers conference on Thursday 28th April in London.
For compliance officers in large, City and international firms, Mark Stobbs, former director of both the Law Society of England and Wales and the Bar Standards Board, will present ethical dilemmas experienced by solicitors and barristers at our 10th Regulatory compliance for law firms conference on Wednesday 11th May in London.
For the team at ARK it is exciting to be rolling out our established legal services compliance methods to be able to help and support those outside of our traditional conference audiences. Please do share our new events with your clients and contacts where relevant.
I look forward to welcoming you to a conference soon.
Head of Events, ARK and Head of Legal Compliance Association