UK: COLPability? – Key Issues For Compliance Officers For Legal Practice

The new roles of Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (COLP) and Compliance Officer for Finance and Administration (COFA) have been the subject of much debate, and in the case of the COLP some significant concern, in the legal field.

In particular, worries have been voiced that the COLP may face potential personal liabilities, and could be asked to perform a role which may be at odds with his or her own firm's interests.

Nominations for the COLP role were to be provided to the SRA by 31 March 2012 with the role commencing on 31 October 2012. However, the SRA has now extended the deadline and it is not currently possible to submit your nomination even if you are ahead of the pack. The SRA has indicated that the long-awaited nomination form will go live in the next six weeks. This article focuses on the COLP role, what we consider those stepping into the position should be aware of, and what we think can be done to mitigate any risk.

COLP's duties

A COLP's obligations (contained in the SRA Authorisation Rules 2011) include:

  • Ensuring compliance with the terms and conditions of the authorised body's authorisation (except for obligations under the SRA Accounts Rules which would fall to the COFA)
  • Ensuring compliance with the statutory obligations of the firm, its managers, employees or interest holders in relation to the firm carrying on its authorised activities, and
  • Recording any failure to comply, making the records available to the SRA on request and as soon as reasonably practicable reporting to the SRA material failures. Non-material failures should be reported to the SRA in the annual information report. A failure may be material on its own or as part of a pattern of non-compliance

Difficult issues that arise for the COLP

There are a number of difficulties and questions that the duties of the COLP will raise. The guidance contained in the Authorisation Rules makes clear that the COLP role does not absolve firms and their managers from responsibility for compliance, and in addition the SRA has been at pains to make clear that the COLP will not be targeted with the blame for firm's failings. Nonetheless exactly what the SRA will expect of the COLP is an unknown quantity, and the fact that the SRA may sanction the firm itself for compliance failures as well as the COLP may provide cold comfort to the individual COLP. Some of the key issues are:

  • The COLP's role may involve taking steps unfavourable to the firm. For example, if a breach of the rules is discovered that the firm is able to quickly put right without any loss to, or impact on, clients, the COLP may nonetheless take the view he or she is obligated to report this immediately to the SRA, leading to potential adverse consequences1. Similarly, partners or members of the firm may feel aggrieved if the COLP takes the decision to make a report which ultimately proves unnecessary
  • It will be for the COLP to take a view as to what constitutes a material breach that must be reported to the SRA right away, and there is little guidance. The guidance to the Authorisation Rules simply states that the COLP must take account of various factors such as the risk of detriment to clients, risk of any loss of confidence in the firm or provision of legal services, scale of the issue and the overall impact on the firm, its clients and third parties
  • Similarly, the COLP is required to take "reasonable steps" to ensure compliance, and what will be considered reasonable is unclear
  • The COLP's obligation to ensure compliance with statutory obligations is drafted widely. The COLP is also responsible for ensuring compliance with the new Code of Conduct, which is itself new and the SRA's approach to enforcement of it untested

It can be readily appreciated that there is the potential for a COLP to take a view on matters which his or her partners / members believe is "over-cautious", and exposes the firm to the unwelcome attention of its regulator. Inevitably COLPs will need to tread a careful line between discharging their obligations to the SRA and looking after the proper interests of their firm.

What should firms and the potential COLP do now?

  • Consider who the appropriate individual within the firm to hold the role of COLP should be2. It will need to be someone with the necessary time to devote to the role and we suggest someone who is rigorous, pragmatic and robust enough to deal with challenges from the firm. The SRA have indicated that they would prefer if it was not the managing partner (although this remains up to individual firms). We would suggest that it would not be appropriate for the individual dealing with the firm's professional indemnity insurance arrangements and claims to hold the role as they will no doubt have spent time cultivating an atmosphere in which individuals feel comfortable approaching them with issues which might need to be notified promptly to insurers or lead to claims
  • The individual who accepts the role might wish to enter into a written agreement with the firm setting out a number of key matters which could include: The duties that the individual is agreeing to undertake
    • The right of the individual to an indemnity from the firm for any personal liability that might be incurred (although it is unlikely that all potential liability that could arise would be covered)
    • The right of the COLP to take legal advice at the firm's expense in relation to his or her duties, and who the "client" will be in relation to such advice
    • An obligation on the firm to allow the COLP sufficient time to perform the role and to provide necessary resources (although the latter is enshrined in the Rules)
    • Arrangements for planned and unplanned absence of the COLP, and provisions in relation to the removal of the COLP from the role (whether at the instigation of the firm, or where the COLP wants to resign the role)
  • The firm may wish to consider taking out management liability insurance that would specifically cover the role of COLP
  • The potential COLP should be planning what steps to take now that will allow him or her to perform the role from October. Points of action for a firm and its potential COLP before October include: Developing or updating a compliance plan3
    • Setting up systems to allow the COLP to have access to all necessary business information and client files
    • Arranging systems that allow the COLP to ensure compliance: such as a means of file reviews being carried out; ensuring regulatory requirements are met such as in relation to professional indemnity; receiving reports from those responsible for areas such as data protection and money laundering; and ensuring the arrangements to keep the firm's risk and compliance policies up to date are appropriate and staff receive appropriate training on the areas
    • Establishing a means of recording failures to comply, which should include a means by which the COLP can identify whether there are any patterns which mean that breaches may be considered material and so should be reported straight away
    • Establishing a reporting system so that partners and employees report breaches to the COLP, as well as providing necessary training to staff on the new regime including for example on what should be reported to the COLP and the importance of reporting
    • Deciding on any tasks that should be delegated with clear reporting lines back to the COLP


Although the positives of the COLP role can be appreciated, in for example providing a closer liaison point for the SRA with the firm, the role raises a number of important issues that those undertaking it need to consider carefully. Preparation is required sooner rather than later in order to be ready for the October deadline.


1 The guidance in the Authorisation Rules makes clear that remedying breaches does not obviate the need for the COLP to report where appropriate.

2 The COLP must be a lawyer and must be a manger or employee of a firm who is of sufficient seniority to fulfil the role and whose designation is approved by the SRA (see Authorisation Rule 8.5(b)). The SRA released advice on recruiting COLPs and COFAs on 14 March 2012 including advance notice of some of the key information that will be required available here:

3 See Guidance note (iii) to Authorisation Rule 8

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions