Wednesday, 28 May 2014

We Have to Talk About Risk

I understand the difficulties of running a set of chambers, I really do. It has been a difficult five years for most sets - cost cutting, revenue pressures, and everyone simply working much harder than before.

Few professional managers have survived in chambers - there has been an understandable return to Senior Clerking (which in non-barrister speak means a concentration on the Sales function) - and so there is often no one to direct the processes and procedures that keep chambers the right side of the Code of Conduct (or whatever it is called this year).

One of the first things that goes is Risk Management - which is odd given how damaging it can be to chambers. I have lost count of the number of sets I've spoken to recently about Risk where the conversation from the client has been along the lines of:
"Of course we have a Risk Register...I'm sure we do. I remember seeing it somewhere. Something about fires and backups and all that sort of stuff. No - we don't need to test it really since we all know what's going on. Backups? We don't need to bother with that because we use a hosted system. No of course we haven't checked that they're backing things up - surely they do all that sort of thing. What do you mean 'Reputational Risk'? Anyway - I haven't got more time to muck about with all of this stuff, I have to be in court in ten minutes..."
All perfectly understandable, but no less dangerous. The risks facing chambers change all the time and need to be reassessed regularly. As important to assessing the risks is to test chambers' response - make sure that all the things happen actually can or do happen...

I had a client - a law firm - on the continent who was convinced that every incoming piece of paper was scanned into the firm's Document Management System. After all, that was what the process document said was happening. I organised a scenario run-through and as part of the discussion, I raised the subject of everything being scanned. "Huh. No it isn't. Have you any idea of how much paper is delivered every day?" was the response from the head secretary.  It turned out that, not only wasn't all the incoming paperwork scanned, the firm had no idea what was scanned and what wasn't - so some never was and some was scanned multiple times.
So - a structured process is necessary - to make sure that chambers has considered and addressed all those risks it can and that it has tested the response.

As ever, I would be delighted to help. More information about my approach to Risk Management is available here.

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