Whether you're holding money on account of your costs, a deposit for a conveyancing transaction or handling the administration of an estate, the money you're holding isn't yours and therefore must be safeguarded.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority's (SRA) Accounts Rules have been designed to protect client money. However, it is the responsibility of law firms themselves to design and implement the appropriate processes, procedures and controls to ensure compliance with the rules.

There are two basic categories of internal controls – preventative and detective. An effective internal control system will have both types as each serves a different purpose. Ultimately, controls are in place to protect client money by preventing fraud (either internal or external), human error or any other inappropriate action.

Here are our top tips for enhancing your internal control environment:

  1. Account management systems are key – the automation of processes wherever possible minimises the risk of human error while also increasing efficiency.
  2. Integrate cybersecurity into all your processes - the steps required to gain access to your systems should be regularly reviewed along with a review of who has access to client account records.
  3. Segregation of duties – often difficult in a small organisation but essential wherever possible to avoid collusion and to help minimise errors and reduce the risk of fraud.
  4. Prioritise training for all members of staff responsible for handling client money – this includes all fee earners and finance team members and not just those who have ultimate authority for client account payments.

If you think your firm would benefit from an independent review of the internal processes and controls in place let us know. We offer outsourced or co-sourced internal audit programmes or one-off reviews to assess the status of your client money controls and provide insightful recommendations to ensure continuous improvement.

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.