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Business support key to compliance culture

Compliance officers need to be 'visible and available', says Ottilie Sefton

4 April 2014

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Law firms that don't invest in adequate business support are risking compliance failures, according to Ottilie Sefton, partner and COLP at international law firm Holman Fenwick Willan.

"If you don't have proper business support, you're not really building a compliance culture," she said.

Speaking at Managing Partner's fifth COLP & COFA conference yesterday, Sefton said that compliance officers need to be visible and available across the business if they are to be effective in their roles.

A key challenge is that lawyers often report compliance risks late and optimistically when they don't have a relationship with the compliance officer, she said.

"You need to walk the floors, walk the offices and talk to everyone - videoconferencing is not as effective when it comes to compliance issues. It's only when you talk to people properly that you get the full picture.

"And, it's only when you build a good trusted relationship that people come and talk to you about things. You need to make yourself visible in group practice meetings, business service meetings and board meetings. You need to be visible and available.

"And, don't just listen to what people tell you - act on it. Otherwise they may not bother telling you again next time. If there is an issue or solution, act on it and tell them about it."

But, risk management and regulatory compliance should not just be seen as the purview of compliance officers. "Compliance is for everyone," said Sefton.

"You run the risk of being very process driven if all you are thinking about is tools and systems when it comes to compliance.

"Responsibility for compliance has to lie with management and operational people - COLPs and COFAs cannot do it all ourselves."

War stories are particularly effective in encouraging lawyers to engage with compliance, she said.

Annual audits also work very well and play to fee earners' competitive nature when they are rated on a sliding scale and compared to their peers at international offices, Sefton noted.

Cross-training is also effective in engaging business services such as IT, central control and accounts in compliance issues, she said.




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Risk & Compliance