Law Firm Working from Home: Are there Compliance Issues?

law firm working from home

Since the beginning of the pandemic last year, most law firms have allowed their staff to work from home to ensure employees were kept safe. As restrictions begin to lift, some law firms are starting to encourage staff to get back to the office, whilst others are opting for more hybrid work schedules that allow legal professionals to work remotely for part of the week and work in an office environment for the rest of the week. Although this type of agile working provides several benefits, such as reduced business overheads and more work/life balance for employees, many compliance professionals have raised concerns regarding flexible working for law firms.

Law firm working from home: The benefits

Covid-19 has forced the legal profession to become a lot more flexible and adopt new work systems, such as changing to a paperless system using specialist case management software. One of the main changes that all legal practices were required to make was allowing lawyers and staff to work remotely. Although this type of working is very different to previous systems of work, it has brought a number of benefits to law firms and those working within the legal industry, including:

  • Increased work/life balance – As well as allowing staff to work from home, many law firms have adopted a more flexible approach to working hours. Better work/life balance may lead to more satisfied staff and increased productivity. This flexibility is not only great for staff, but it is also a benefit for clients to be able to get in touch with their solicitors outside of the usual 9-5 working hours.
  • Reduced overheads – As many employees opt to work in their home office, many law firms may be able to reduce their real estate costs as they require smaller office space. Law firms working from home may also lead to reduced office maintenance costs, such as lower electricity bills and less need for cleaning staff.
  • The adoption of new technologies – The use of modern technology has ensured the survival of many law firms throughout the pandemic. A large proportion of solicitors changed from using full or part paper systems to becoming fully paperless firms using legal case management systems. Adopting these systems will have allowed staff to carry out tasks and access their cases remotely. Modern technology may have also assisted in the improvement of productivity and increased profitability for some law firms.

 

Law firm working from home: The main compliance risks

Although working from home has been greatly beneficial to law firms for many reasons, some firms have overlooked the potential compliance issues that may arise due to this type of flexible working. Some of the main law firm working from home compliance risks include:

  • Money laundering risks – In a poll conducted by The Access Group, it was found that 85% of law firms plan to offer hybrid working options; however, 40% of the 3,500 firms included in the poll had not updated the risk assessments for anti-money laundering (AML).
  • Cybersecurity and data protection- In every practice area, data protection and client confidentiality are of utmost importance. Since moving to remote working, a large proportion of law firms are yet to update their cybersecurity policies fully. Due to this, there may be an increased risk of data loss or cybercrime as a result of staff using personal IT equipment and a potential lack of virus protection on devices. The storage of client data on personal devices, such as laptops, could also lead to breaches in client data protection.
  • Employee health and safety – To safely allow staff and lawyers to work from home, employers should have carried out a health and safety risk assessment on their homes prior to being forced to work remotely back in March 2020. According to the Access Group poll, 22% of law firms did not carry out a health and safety assessment.

 

Should law firms continue to allow their staff to work from home?

It is clear that there are many benefits to allowing law firm working from home options. As many firms consider more flexible options, they should give serious thought to the compliance risks and review all procedures to ensure that all clients’ data staff are safe safe under these new conditions.

Following the Access Legal poll, Brian Rogers, regulatory director, stated ” “Although most firms appear to be doing the right things, there are quite a few that are placing themselves, their staff and their clients at significant risk. We urge these firms to take urgent action to ensure they seek help to address the gaps highlighted…With the vast majority of firms looking to make a permanent switch to hybrid working, now is the time to carefully review compliance procedures and ensure that your requirements as an employer are being met.”

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