Not all heroes wear capes

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LAST WORDS - Christian Lister, Operations Director & Compliance Officer, X-Press Legal Services

Let’s set the scene: 1st March, 10am

A letter arrives from the SRA notifying you of their intention to review your firm.  The SRA is available to attend for a visit in a fortnight, a month or six months’ time….  Of course, you immediately plump for the latest possible date.  Why?  You know your firm is on top of growing compliance pressures and you’ve got a great compliance officer, yet you can’t help but feel a bit of procrastination will stand you in better stead for the big day. 1st September is the date you choose.


‘Jennifer’, the Compliance Officer, is more than familiar with compliance creep. She always knew a career in conveyancing would be busy but volunteering to lead on compliance has been her greatest challenge yet.  Alongside managing a busy caseload, thanks to an upswing in the property market, Jennifer’s daily responsibilities have swelled over the years to now include:

  • Enforcement
  • Inclusion
  • Firm-wide risk assessments
  • Whistleblowing
  • Suspicious activity
  • Anti-money laundering
  • Proceeds of crime
  • Sanctions
  • Due diligence
  • Data / GDPR / CyberRisk

Jennifer is a big fan of outsourced compliance teams and is hoping her fee earnings this year will help fund one before the next SRA visit.

But for this impending visit, Jennifer ponders, just how far does one have to go to prove ‘enforcement’?  As COLP, she is the executioner regarding ‘action deemed necessary’ and yet it will also be her head on the block should the firm be found to have not been compliant enough.  

And then there is inclusion.  This is the one that keeps Jennifer awake at night.  Inclusion is a nice enough word, connoting magnanimity, and beneficence as well as welcoming and tolerance.  All of which Jennifer believe her firm delivers.  It’s a great place to work and has taken great strides to make every team member feel included, but how does she prove it?  By showing what they have done and why, Jennifer concludes, is the only possible route.  Surely, the SRA can’t find fault with that?  

And then there are the other eight boxes that must be ticked to ensure comprehensive legal and financial compliance.  Of course, Jennifer and every other COLP knows all this work is really all about the economics of compliance. But remember the 1st, 2nd and 3rd rules of compliance: If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen…

COLPs like Jennifer are the eyes and ears on the ground of HMRC and the real work is in following the money.  If we are to overcome cyber criminality and money laundering throughout the property sector, then every law firm must be consistently vigilant, and compliance is the clearest route to ensure it. 

Not all heroes wear capes; today’s COLPs are more unsung than Clark Kent.  So why do we fear the SRA so much? 

Next time you receive a letter requesting a date for audit, take the challenge and go for the earliest possible date. There’s a good chance you will achieve less sleepless nights and the same outcomes by taking the most direct route to post audit relief.