Risk Update

Risk Roundup — COVID and Office Openings, Ethical Walls (Accounting/Independence Variety) & SRA “Schemes” Warning

Here are a variety of risk-related stories I’ve taken note of recently. This first is from a few weeks ago, but is worth note as organizations navigate the shifting pandemic landscape: “Biglaw Office Shut Down After COVID Outbreak” —

  • “The process of reopening Biglaw offices is bound to be a slow one filled with many stops and starts. Just ask Squire Patton Boggs. The international law firm had to shut down its Manchester office after lawyers tested positive for COVID-19.”
  • “Though the office is now reopened, according to a spokesperson it ‘remains, as it was previously, at limited capacity,’ and employees at the office are “doing so on a managed, voluntary basis and in accordance with the health and safety protocols put in place by the firm.'”
  • “One of the attorneys who tested positive was reportedly working on a corporate deal when the test result came in. The entire team was immediately sent home, and, as RollOnFriday notes, they had to depend on the kindness of another Biglaw firm to get everything done.”

This one is clearly outside the scope of law firms, but I do find it interesting to keep an eye on how related professional services industries (and other geographies) are navigating risk issues. In this case, an update on evolving rules governing ethical walls for accounting firms and the distinction between audit and advisory services: “Charting a new course of Independence for SMSF accounting and audit firms” —

  • “The Independence Guide clarifies that ethical walls aren’t sufficient for most SMSF engagements. It’s time to disengage from either the accounting and compliance or the audit of a SMSF.”
  • “The ATO has advised that accounting firms have until July 2021 to restructure their practice if they are providing accounting or compliance advisory services to SMSF audit clients.”
  • “The recent update to the Independence Guide (the Guide), jointly issued by the Accounting Professional and Ethical Standards Board (APESB) and Australia’s three professional accountancy organisations, places a spotlight on auditor independence, particularly for auditors of Self-Managed Superannuation Funds (SMSFs). In the past, it was considered acceptable for an accounting practice to offer both accounting and audit services to a SMSF, as long as ‘ethical walls’ were in place to reduce self-review threats to an acceptable level.”
  • “The Code and the Guide now make it very clear that safeguards to reduce self-review threats are no longer considered sufficient for most SMSF engagements.”
  • “Firms have been given window of time to make necessary changes; as the ATO has advised that it will adopt an educative approach during the 2020/21 financial year to enable firms time to restructure and implement the Code requirements.”

Solicitors still acting as fronts for ‘dubious schemes’”

  • “The Solicitors Regulation Authority has made a new warning to solicitors about becoming involved in dubious investment schemes after reviewing recent cases leading to the closure of seven firms and other regulatory action.”
  • “A thematic review of 40 past cases found that in 63% of the cases, solicitors had failed to carry out proper due diligence on those who ran the schemes, with no checks carried out at all in 20% of cases. Investigations led to seven firms being intervened in to and 20 referrals to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.”
  • “The Law Society said it supported the call for awareness. Simon Davis, president, said: ‘Historically fraud is a crime that increases during recessions. As the economy slides and unemployment rises, all solicitors must therefore be alert to that risk, especially if a deal seems too good to be true.'”