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[LONDON]A new code of professional behavior for solicitors in England and Wales which introduces strict rules for the risk management practices of firms came into force Sunday.
The new Solicitors Code of Conduct will make greater demands on the risk management practices of law firms in England and Wales, as it stipulates that solicitors must focus on risk management and practice business continuity management.
Failure to comply with the risk management requirements could result in disciplinary procedures by the Solicitors Regulation Authority which has published the guide.
And there is concern that the profession is not ready to comply with the risk management requirements. Research by London-based Aon Ltd., a unit of Chicago-based Aon Corp., found that less than half of solicitors are prioritizing risk management. This is despite rule 5 of the new code that demands firms execute risk management and business continuity plans.
In a recent statement, Marsh Ltd., the London-based unit of New York-based Marsh Inc., said it had come across research from the "Law Society Gazette," which showed that 37% of firms only have the most basic business continuity arrangements in place and more than a quarter do not have business continuity plans in place at all.
London-based Martin Caddick, head of U.K. business continuity management at Marsh Ltd., said that the level of preparedness for the new regulation, may well depend on the size of the firm.
"Law firms that are large enough to have information technology and facilities management units tend to delegate risk management to that area. The partners tend to focus on the provision of legal services. But in smaller firms, the partners tend to be a bit more risk-aware, because they have to be involved in the administrative side of running the business," he said.
Mr. Caddick said that law firms are hugely dependent on paper work, but warned that firms need to make sure that they are protected so that work can continue in the event of business interruptions.
He also said that "business continuity plans tend to concentrate on the impact to the office, rather than on the staff. Firms need to ask themselves how they continue their work, whether they have the resilience to carry on, and what their key projects are. They need to have the mechanisms for finding out what the answers are in place."
Mr. Caddick said that business continuity plans tend to focus on what happens if staff cannot get to the office. But Mr. Caddick said that firms must be sure that they are properly set up for that in terms of information technology support, for example. Mr. Caddick also urged firms to look at how they would operate their business if their staff could not work because of a pandemic.
Patrick Hearn, director, professional services group at the Bristol branch of Aon Ltd., said that "the profession is not unprepared. It is used to managing risk. It's a heavily regulated profession. What is a slight departure is that the new rules codify what they've already been doing. They will need to be able to show evidence of it."
"The Solicitors Code of Conduct" has been published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which was created in January 2007 out of the Legal Services Bill, which divided the duties of the Law Society.
The Law Society remains the representative body or trade union for solicitors, but the regulation of the profession now falls to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The new code replaces "The Guide to the Professional Conduct of Solicitors," which was first published in 1960, and it is comprised of 25 "rules," the first of which sets out the "core duties" for solicitors, dealing with justice and the rule of law, integrity, independence, best interests of the client, standard of service and public confidence.