Law firms not getting to grips with COFA role
It’s now almost six months since the deadline passed for nominations for the new statutory roles of COLP and COFA for law firms.
These Compliance Officer for Legal Practice and Compliance Officer for Finance and Administration roles are to be in place from January 2013.
However, indications show that over 1,000 law firms have still not put there nominations forward, and that those who have are still unsure about exactly what the full responsibilities are, largely because of continued implementation delays at the SRA.
COFA as whistle blower
The role of COFA, with its requirement to blow the whistle if financial compliance and risk management are not up to scratch, is causing particular concern.
The COFA role does present a bit of a dilemma for the person chosen to perform it, not to mention the extra burden of responsibility and workload.
For firms where the role is taken seriously, and the COFA is given the authority to run financial systems and procedures as they see fit, there’s the possibility that they will be seen as the in-house baddie, especially as they have to report breaches of these systems and procedures and file an annual report of such breaches with the SRA.
Making it work
For those firms where management don’t take the role seriously, well, they could have a particularly painful time when the SRA audits them.
This is where it becomes difficult as firms that take these financial obligations seriously, and report breaches, may initially look worse than firms that have recorded no breaches because they don’t take it seriously. There’s a risk of the good firms looking bad and vice versa, at least initially. We would hope the SRA bears this in mind when it is reviewing reports from law firms.
The degree of responsibility that comes with the COFA role cannot be underestimated. All law firms need to ensure that the person assigned to the role is given the authority and the time to make it work.
I will talk more in my next blog about exactly what the COFA role involves, who should perform it and what their liability is.
Karen Hain is a partner and head of professional practices at Moore and Smalley. Contact her on 01772 821021 for further information.
Moore and Smalley will be holding some workshops specifically for COFAs in legal practices. Further details will be released soon. To register your interest please email firstname.lastname@example.org