Support for In-house Legal Teams
The landscape of legal regulation is shifting. In-house lawyers face a unique set of issues and opportunities. We can help.
The landscape of legal regulation is shifting. In-house lawyers face a unique set of issues and opportunities. Our Compli service can ensure that you meet your own professional obligations, leaving you free to deliver the best service to in-house clients.
Until recently, in-house lawyers rarely appeared on the SRA's radar. Enjoying certain carve-outs from the SRA Handbook, the majority of in-house departments will not have been obliged to appoint a COLP and COFA or secure professional indemnity cover. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that in-house solicitors are facing a raft of issues specific to them, which could affect significantly the ability to comply with their regulatory obligations.
The outcomes-focused regulation (OFR) regime continues to evolve and whilst it allows the profession to be more creative, there remain prescriptive practice restrictions over those working in-house. These restrictions, coupled with the differing needs of employers, may raise conduct and ethical dilemmas for in-house lawyers to grapple with, often with little or no support. Active SRA scrutiny of the sector is set to increase in light of the recent issues identified and adverse press. Whilst traditionally the SRA would have taken comfort from the fact that many lawyers working in-house would be employed by organisations covered by other regulatory regimes, such as the FCA and PRA, recent high profile reports are likely to lead to a change in SRA attitude.
These reports, all linked to solicitors' regulatory obligations and the reputation of the profession have included “pseudo-firms” - in the most notorious instance used by a number of banks and “payday” lenders such as Lloyds and Wonga. The supposed firms were simply names used by the lenders' in-house legal teams. Misleading activity could represent breaches of the Code and failure to meet the Principles and Outcomes, and professional misconduct. Lloyds has been criticised by the Treasury Select Committee for this, and other leading banks have now been asked to account for similar activity. The SRA is alive to these issues, and following a number of complaints has issued a Warning Notice reiterating key parts of the publicity code and expressing grave concern at the possibility of in-house solicitors having taken unfair advantage of unrepresented consumers.
More recently, a former News International in-house lawyer faces SRA disciplinary proceedings in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, accused of failing to disclose relevant information to the company's board.
In addition to other challenges in this increasingly competitive environment, notably the inception of Alternative Business Structures (ABSs) under the Legal Services Act, there are still strict rules about how in-house lawyers may operate. Employees are permitted to provide legal services to persons other than their employer only in very limited circumstances. Unless those solicitors are able to offer their services through a business model that can be authorised and regulated by the SRA, i.e. an ABS, they simply cannot begin to contemplate offering services to “clients” and making a profit. ABSs bring with them a number of opportunities, but also challenges and considerations, not least of which is the further regulatory burden for the organisation.
With a review of the sector currently being undertaken by the SRA, now is the time to make sure that appropriate systems and strategies are in place to deal with the changes and to make sure that your house is in order.
Our aim is to ensure that you and your team can get on with your work without spending inordinate amounts of time on compliance and risk issues. We can devise a package customised to meet your particular needs at a fixed fee, to ensure that all your regulatory obligations are met at minimum expense. Whilst our menu of services includes those listed below, our initial focus will be to ensure that you are working in a complaint manner without the risk of sanction or investigation.
Our team can provide a range of fixed or agreed fee services designed to equip in-house lawyers with the knowledge, skills and tools required to operate in a compliant manner and reduce risk. We can assist by navigating a way through the relevant parts of the SRA Handbook and in particular the Practice Framework Rules, providing practical guidance and tools to facilitate the development of appropriate structures and procedures within which to operate. We can work from an annual retainer under which the Compli team are intrinsic to your in-house team in terms of managing training as well as regulatory and conduct issues and discrete projects.
Web-based question and answer diagnostic, specifically designed for your in-house team, providing an 'at a glance' report as to your level of regulatory understanding and compliance.
Bespoke compliance advice
Comprehensive compliance advice service ensuring compliance with the SRA Handbook.
Risk and compliance monitoring assistance
Identifying actual or potential regulatory issues or failings, and working with you to devise solutions. Also identifying risks that are causing or could lead to claims and complaints.
SRA Handbook compliance training
Our consultants deliver expert training programmes to ensure that in-house teams are fully aware of their regulatory and compliance requirements in line with the SRA Handbook, in particular the Practice Framework Rules.
Independent and objective assurance to the management team that your systems and controls for regulatory compliance are fit for purpose. Our practical, hands-on review of systems and processes will identify any potential risks to regulatory compliance and offer insights into best practice. We can use our findings to help you to set up, maintain and monitor compliant systems and processes.
ABS advice and assistance
Advice on structure and assistance in the application process. The Compli team will coordinate with colleagues in the Weightmans corporate team and accountants within the applicant's organisation to ensure that the proposed model is both compliant and tax efficient.
With cyber-crime on the rise and the potential catastrophic damage to reputation and legal sanction that a breach in data security brings, our audit process will look at both the physical security of data and the logical security of sensitive databases to ensure that systems are robust.
Instant access to advice and guidance on matters of regulatory compliance, conduct and ethics.
Structure and strategic review
Advice on achieving the best structure to optimise organisational capabilities, human resources, market channels and revenue flows.