Consulting in Risk & Compliance: Rhiannon Davies
We spoke with Rhiannon Davies, Senior Risk & Compliance Associate to Law Firms at The Access Group, to find out what's changing in this space, what's working, and what's not. The Access Group deliver specialist compliance consultancy services to law firms.
How did you get into risk and compliance?
By accident really! I started working for Nationwide Building Society when I left school at 16 and was a "Saturday Girl" as we were called at the time! I was there for 15 years and worked my way up through different roles up to Branch Manager. While I was Branch Manager, I really enjoyed the risk aspect of the role. In the last few years at Nationwide, I was promoted to an Area Operations Manager role which was focused on supporting a number of branches with their risk and compliance obligations.
Why did you choose to go into consulting over a traditional law firm compliance role?
I don't come from a law firm background and I'm not legally trained, but I chose to move from the financial sector to the legal sector because a lot of things in the financial sector were becoming more automated and I felt that I was not using my brain or helping people as much as I could! The legal sector is definitely further behind the financial sector in terms of compliance and going into a consulting role meant that I could engage with many different firms and learn how different size firms approach different issues. Consulting also means that I could focus purely on the risk and compliance aspects that a law firm needs whereas when you are working in a law firm, you get pulled into other aspects which can impact the amount of time you have to spend in your actual role.
What are the common challenges law firms face in risk and compliance?
Balancing time for fee earning and time for completing the risk and compliance. Bigger firms are lucky enough to have dedicated compliance teams but other firms have to look after the risk and compliance side of things as well as fee earning. The requirements put on firms in terms of risk and compliance are increasing all the time so it is challenging to get everything done to the standard that is required.
When law firms excel in this area, what are they doing well?
Usually, I find they have someone in a role that is dedicated to risk and compliance or they have reduced fee-earning targets for those with additional responsibilities such as the COLP/COFA/MLRO roles etc... Having said that, more and more firms are outsourcing what they can in terms of risk and compliance requirements, such as file audits, in order to free up fee earner time.
Are there similarities between all of the regulated industries that you work with, or are they all as different as we’re led to believe?
I worked in the financial sector for 15 years and have now been in the legal sector for 4 years and there are vast differences between these in terms of the approach companies take to adhering to their risk and compliance obligations. Even in the legal sector, we work with SRA, CLC and BSB-regulated firms/entities and there are different approaches between these.
What impact has the pandemic had on this space?
Working from home has meant that there is less oversight of those working in firms. I don't want this to sound like firms should be adopting a "big brother" approach, but firms and managers do still have an obligation to ensure that those working within the firm are adhering to their obligations, and it can be difficult to do this when you are no longer in an office environment. I think it is also difficult for those new to the sector, not to have an office environment to learn from others and bounce ideas off.
How has professional indemnity insurance changed, and what problems commonly crop up for your clients?
Feedback from firms is that not only is it more expensive to take out a policy but getting cover in the first place can be difficult. In my experience, it is becoming more important to tell a story of your firm rather than just completing a form. Put together a case study, get someone independent to come in and do a compliance review, send MI from file audits you have completed etc... to show your broker that you are a good risk for PI companies to take on. Also, make sure you start doing this early so that you are not scratching around last minute looking for cover.
Do you think pressure over risk and compliance is having an impact on mental health in the legal sector, and in what ways?
Can we mitigate this? Absolutely. Too often we see pressure to bring in fees to the firm but a lack of consideration as to the amount of time that needs to be dedicated to risk and compliance.
How do you feel the risk and compliance space has changed in the last 5 years?
The last 5 years have been a bit of a whirlwind really so it has meant that those within the legal sector have had to adapt quickly to new ways of working. Risk and compliance is not something that is going away; in fact, it is increasing as days go by. However, I think people are starting to understand the benefits that good risk and compliance can bring to firms. Rather than thinking that risk and compliance is something that HAS to be done, people are seeing that good risk and compliance can bring reduced costs, minimise errors, increase productivity and ultimately save time in the long run, to name a few.
Get all the latest Law Firm Risk & Compliance news in your inbox with our free monthly newsletter. We're here to keep you in the loop!