In this Blog looking at some of the many queries received from our clients through our Ask Teal Service, we consider how to deal with compliance obligations remotely.
How can we ensure compliance works remotely?
The Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority will still expect compliance to happen and undoubtedly some elements of compliance, such as supervision of staff, are likely to be more challenging than others to deal with remotely.
If you are the Compliance Office for Legal Practice it’s your job to take steps to ensure compliance is working at your firm and to detect and to report serious breaches of regulatory obligations. This can be done:
Through complaints or claims: These processes are unlikely to differ in the current climate, whether you are offsite or onsite.
Supervision: As we think that supervision is likely to be one of the biggest challenges to law firms with significant numbers of staff working remotely, we will discuss this separately in other Blogs.
File reviews: Many firms undertake monthly file reviews, others quarterly. At this point, we don’t know how long we are going to be working remotely. We do know that vulnerable persons have been asked to keep social distancing measures in place for 12 weeks. We’ve also seen other jurisdictions extending their initial two week lockdown periods. We know that school exams have been cancelled. So, we could be preparing for at least one quarter’s worth of disruption.
Many firms still undertake paper reviews. We have been considering how to do this when working offsite. You will need to make arrangements to get files to your file reviewers to enable the work to be done.
For reviews usually done online, this raises other challenges. During onsite visits, the paper files we are given to review often don’t contain all the necessary information. Client due diligence information is often kept in a separate file. The correspondence folder may be missing information or even empty as the Fee Earner has not yet filed communications from their desktop onto the file. Good file hygiene and discipline is going to be critical and you should remind your staff of this.
Self-reporting: It will be critical that staff understand why you ask them to self-report. We prefer to talk about staff reporting “incidents” rather than “breaches”, i.e. incidences of when policies and procedures have not been adhered to. At this time, it is highly likely that your policies and procedures will be applying to situations that you did not conceive of. For example, your Working at Home Policy will most likely be designed with Fee Earners in mind and how they operate, rather than support staff such as receptionists and secretarial staff or accounts staff. You will not have visibility of how staff will be working so it will be very important that you encourage staff to let you know if they believe that changes in your policies are required.