Thursday 19 April 2012 by Catherine Baksi

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has laid out its plans for nominating and appointing compliance officers for legal practice (COLPs) and compliance officers for financial administration (COFAs).

In a speech today, SRA executive director Samantha Barrass announced that firms will be able to nominate COLPs and COFAs from 31 May 2012, and they must have done so by 31 July.

The process, which was due to begin at the end of March, has been delayed due to the difficulties with the mySRA online application system for practising certificate renewals.

Under the provisions of the Legal Services Act and as part of the SRA's move to outcomes-focused regulation all firms, including sole practitioner firms, must nominate a COLP and a COFA.

Firms will need to complete a web-based nomination form proposing the names of the individuals, who will then be subject to checks by the SRA.

A senior manager from the firm must confirm that the firm has suitable arrangements in place to ensure that the COLP and COFA are able to discharge their duties.

If suitable, a firm's COLP and COFA positions will become effective from October.

Highlighting the SRA's need to balance being both proactive and risk-based, Barrass said: 'Whilst the vast majority of firms place a great deal of importance on professional ethics and delivery of profession services, others may not have adequately assessed their risks, and how those risks affect their achievement of the regulatory outcomes.'

She added: 'What this tells us is that a proactive, efficient regulatory regime is one where the primary responsibility for managing compliance risk lies with the firms, with particular responsibilities for the most senior people in firms.'

Barrass said such an approach encourages the development of a 'strong proactive compliance culture' in firms by creating a clear formal focus for delivery of the regulatory outcomes.

'This risk-based approach leaves the SRA to focus on those who cannot and/or will not deliver competent and ethical legal services, and on those who are capable and willing but need SRA support to manage particular compliance issues,' she said.

The SRA stressed that while COLPs and COFAs will be the formal focal points for compliance, they will not be seen as 'sacrificial lambs'.

Barrass said: 'Senior managers will be held to account and will not be able to absolve themselves of their responsibilities. The intention is to create a firm-wide culture of compliance.'

Firm managers and nominees seeking advice, should call the SRA's ethics helpline on 0870 606 2577.

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