Presenters at this year’s Law Society conference think law firms need to be ready for increased regulation

In a law firm regulatory update at the Law Society’s Anti-Money Laundering and Financial Crime Conference 2023, the presenters pointed out how regulation has increased in the past 15 years. They believe it is a trend that will continue and law firms should be prepared. 

The panel were uniform in their belief that more regulations were coming down the pike. They included: Amasis Saba, head of business acceptance, Simmons & Simmons LLP; Suzie Ogilvie, global head of financial crime and sanctions, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP; Emma Oettinger, head of financial crime and risk, Ashurst; and, David Artingstall, AML/CFT Consultant and Associate Fellow, Rusi.

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Solicitors Regulation Authority’s FY 2022/23 audit to be released shortly

At the Law Society’s Anti-Money Laundering and Financial Crime Conference 2023, Collette Best, the SRA’s director of anti-money laundering, provided a sneak peek into the regulator’s upcoming annual report. The conclusion: Many UK law firms are non-compliant. The implications for these firms are important as Best noted that the SRA will likely be entitled to provide higher fines going forward.

Best’s numbers are sobering. Out of 225 firms that were audited, less than 20% were fully compliant. Only half the firms had compliant firm-wide risk assessments (FWRAs). Significantly, the SRA took enforcement actions on 47 firms this past year.

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Andy Donovan from Compliance Office takes you through the latest updates from the Solicitors Regulation Authority

New rules and guidance from SRA

📰 The SRA’s has just published new guidance on the Proceeds of Crime Act and it does feel a little like a further attempt to push AML regulated sector obligations out to all areas of legal practice despite the absence of mandatory legal or regulatory requirements duties. So boutique litigation firms for example should pay particular attention. Here’s the key information:

🔍 You have to really concentrate to realise that it is largely recommended best practice going above and beyond clear mandatory duties rather than more typical SRA guidance, similar to what we saw with the sanctions guidance. Pay close attention to the ‘key’ at the start of the guidance which distinguishes between ‘must’ (hardly used!) ‘should’ (which means it is recommended best practice) and ‘may’.

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Wednesday 5th July, 12:00 pm (BST)

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has announced that its biannual mandatory diversity survey will be due on 23rd July 2023.

All SRA regulated law firms, regardless of size, must collect, report and publish their workforce diversity data every two years.

In this webinar, VinciWorks’ Director of Best Practice, Gary Yantin, will be joined by Siân Hughes, Head of EDI at the SRA, and Andrew Donovan, Managing Director, at The Compliance Office. Gary, Siân and Andrew will discuss the importance of reporting and publishing SRA diversity data.

The webinar will cover: 

  • How to report and organise the diversity data
  • How to carry out the survey and meet the SRA’s deadline
  • Current data on diversity and inclusion in law firms and what firms can do to improve
  • How we can help

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It’s time to look at how your firm handles designated persons

The Government’s financial sanctions regime is continually changing. It was created with national security objectives in mind and law firms play a critical role in its implementation. So much so that the sanctions regime applies to all firms that provide legal services, a broader bucket than just those that are covered by the anti-money laundering (AML) regulations.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) just released a new questionnaire compelling law firms to report on their firm’s approach to financial sanctions.

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SRA Diversity reporting tool

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has announced that its mandatory diversity survey will be due sometime in the summer of 2023. The SRA has said that it will provide four weeks’ notification prior to the actual deadline. VinciWorks is proud to offer all law firms in England and Wales a simple, free and secure way to anonymously collect and aggregate diversity data via our compliance management software, Omnitrack.

After registering, you will be provided with a unique link to send to your staff. We will send you all data collected, together with aggregated data in the format required by the SRA, in advance of the reporting deadline. Click here to preview the questionnaire.

Sign up for the free service

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Updated 1 June 2023

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has announced that its mandatory diversity survey will be due in the summer of 2023. The SRA will open the survey on 26 June when they will email firms with a link for reporting.

The SRA has given a reporting period of four weeks – the deadline is 23 July 2023. Firms should have received an email on 18 May with information on reporting.

Which size firms are required to report diversity data?

All firms, of any size, even sole practitioners will have to collect and report the data to the SRA. However, in-house lawyers will not need to report.

How do firms collect the SRA’s diversity data?

In order to make this mandatory report to the SRA, firms will need to collect diversity data, based on a questionnaire, from all staff. The firms will then have to collate the data and organise it by specific job roles before submitting it to the SRA.

You can use the SRA’s Word version of the questionnaire or VinciWork’s SRA diversity survey data collection tool.

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Firms and practitioners outside of the MLRs can be examined by the regulator

Despite controversial proposals in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act to weaken the long-discussed failure to prevent fraud offence, the Bill also contains new powers for the Solicitors Regulation Authority to become an economic crime enforcer.

Currently, the SRA’s powers to tackle economic crime in the legal sector are limited to being able to require firms to provide documents ahead of inspections it carries out in relation to money laundering.

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Andy Donovan, Managing Director and Founder of Compliance Office
Andy Donovan, Managing Director and Founder of Compliance Office

The SRA have released further guidance and rules over the last few months. In this blog, Compliance Office’s Andrew Donovan shares the key points.

Understanding SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation)

With increasing public concern that some solicitors are using SLAPPs on behalf of their clients, the SRA has issued a warning notice that tells law firms not to act for clients in this way and outlines some of the activities they would consider to be abusive litigation. A ‘SLAPP’ typically refers to some sort of legal threat or action intended to stifle public commentary or publication. The concern is solicitors being hired to inappropriately threaten and scare people from speaking up. 

Solicitors should only be labelling correspondence as ‘not for publication’, ‘strictly private and confidential’ and/or ‘without prejudice’ when the conditions for using those terms are fulfilled. The new guidance and warnings make clear that confidential markings cannot unilaterally impose a duty of privacy or confidentiality where one does not already exist. Similarly, making excessive or meritless claims or aggressive or intimidating threats will result in regulatory action. The SRA could not be much clearer that firms should not be hired simply to scare people off if there are no legitimate legal grounds to make any relevant claims or threats. The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is actually considering following the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in issuing guidance on strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).

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