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The SRA Standards and Regulations (StaRs) may have had a mixed reception since their launch in November 2019, but they have certainly provided an opportunity to take stock of how you practise and introduce essential steps to ensure ongoing compliance with your regulatory obligations.
However, after six months of working from home, there's a risk of complacency creeping in as we become more comfortable, which could leave us exposed to some fundamental risks in respect of compliance.
In this article, I provide a reminder of some of the risks in working remotely, and some practical tips on how you can stay compliant in case you've slipped into bad habits.
There are key provisions within the StaRs to be aware of when considering how best to ensure compliance with your regulatory obligations, and which might be engaged in the event of non-compliance.
For those with supervision responsibilities, paragraphs 3.5 and 3.6 are also key. These state that where you supervise or manage others providing legal services, you:
The increased risk of loss of confidential information and of data breaches through hard copy documents being transported and kept at home, rather than in offices with the necessary security, systems and controls in place, is inevitable.
You can minimise this risk by, wherever possible, working digitally and avoiding working from hard copy documents. This includes taking fewer handwritten notes during phone calls or virtual meetings; instead, consider typing contemporaneous notes or, where this is not possible or preferable, seeking support from colleagues to do this on your behalf.
If working electronically in this way is not possible, consider transporting and storing documents in a locked receptacle. If you have supervision responsibilities, you may want to stipulate the types of lockable storage you would prefer individuals to use, wherever possible (e.g. a large lockable filing cabinet or lockable drawer within a desk is likely to be harder to steal than a portable lockable rucksack).
Where this is not possible, remember (and remind others) to keep your working environment as secure as possible, by setting a home security alarm and/or closing windows when you / they go out. Avoid using removable media to transport data and, if it does need to be used, ensure the device is encrypted.
Think about your day-to-day ‘home office’; where necessary and indeed where possible, try to work in a private environment where others cannot overhear your confidential conversations. If you share your working space, think about wearing a headset, so at least one half of your conversation cannot be heard. The same applies to your computer screen and making sure its content is not visible when it should not be. Also:
The ability to ‘share your screen’ through Skype for Business and Zoom should be used with caution and, in some circumstances, limited to internal meetings. You should:
The themes of accountability and exercising your judgement pervade the StaRs.
Wherever we are working, we remain accountable for our actions and we also need to be able to justify why we have acted in a certain way. It is also a reminder to us all that working remotely should not lead to a relaxed attitude towards the importance of one’s regulatory obligations. You should be aware that you are responsible for the professional judgement you exercise, and that any decisions you make on a particular case, particularly on complex issues where you could have arrived at a different outcome, should be carefully recorded. This should include reasoning for why you have chosen to act in a certain way, so that you can justify decisions, should you need to.
The SRA’s Enforcement Strategy recognises, however, that mistakes do happen; clear record-keeping will therefore help to distinguish between honest mistakes and less excusable ones.
Jessica is a Senior Associate with extensive experience specialising in legal services regulation. Jessica’s work in this sector focuses on advising her clients in relation to complying with regulatory obligations, better understanding the importance of legal ethics within regulation, regulatory investigations and public law matters, including reviewing regulatory frameworks and decision making processes. Outside the legal services sector, she acts both for and against the regulators of the accountancy and actuarial professionals
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