The start of a new year is as good a time as any to resolve to make changes that will improve risk management and also improve the quality of working life
Many of us make commitments at this time of year to do more of some things, less of others - all with a view to improving ourselves or our quality of life or perhaps improving someone else’s quality of life!

The October 1999 issue of this page talked about the spin-off benefits to be derived from introducing Risk Management systems and procedures - increased efficiency and client retention, improved self-esteem and staff morale.

How?  Planning work better and managing time limits avoids last minute panics and other stressful situations.  Client engagement letters, checklists and questionnaires may help avoid breakdowns in communication with clients that can lead to misunderstandings and client dissatisfaction.  Double checking and file review arrangements give you greater peace of mind that you haven’t developed a blind spot or mental block that could have resulted in a problem if unchecked.

All of these arrangements can help to improve the quality of your working life and in the well-being of your practice.  So why not make a commitment this new year to do something differently that will make a difference?

Quick wins

There’s no doubt that some aspects of risk management involve a lot of work and effort.  Cataloguing and reviewing the content of all the practice’s styles and proformas is not something that can be achieved overnight.  But in due course, the work and effort will pay dividends by putting you in control of and giving you confidence in your standard documentation.

By contrast, some systems and procedures can be relatively easy to introduce straightaway.  For instance, the Model Procedures which were issued by the Society in March 1999 along with the Risk Management Flowchart include procedures dealing with file reviews, file opening, file tracking, fee earner absences etc.  These procedures could be implemented with immediate effect.  In due course, when time permits, these could be tailored to your own specific requirements.  There are also procedures, with relative styles and proformas, in the Society’s manual Better Client Care and Practice Management.

Risk awareness - self assessment

The December 1998 issue addressed the subject of awareness of professional risks and suggested running through a brief self-assessment exercise on a periodic basis to test your own attitude to risk.

One year on, part of the December 1998 article (including the self assessment exercise questions) is repeated here.  Have a look at the questions and see how you rate.  If you considered the questions in December 1998, how have your answers changed since then?

Risk awareness - self assessment

What objective standard is there against which to measure ourselves?

Perhaps there is no truly objective measure but it can be very instructive to go through a self-assessment exercise based on measures which are, as far as possible, objective.

There is an example of a self-assessment questionnaire in the risk management booklet “Ensuring Excellence, Even Better Practice in Practice” (p30) issued to the profession in 1998.  It is aimed at assessing the extent of risk awareness and risk management at the level of the firm as a whole.  The questions which follow are aimed at assessing individuals’ attitudes and behaviour in relation to risk.

Consider the following questions and answer honestly:

  • Do you regularly undertake work with less than a full set of instructions?
  • Do you ever, without supervision, undertake types of work of which you have no previous experience?
  • Do you find yourself agreeing under pressure from clients/colleagues to do anything in relation to client work with which you feel uncomfortable?
  • Do you find it difficult to decline further work even when you consider you already have too much work?
  • Do you have difficulty in soliciting help from colleagues to alleviate the pressure of workloads?
  • Do you ever give the firm’s undertakings in respect of matters (other than delivery of clear searches), which are not within the firm’s control?
  • Do you employ any system in which you do not have complete confidence or do not feel you have the necessary degree of control?
  • Do you find that you sometimes just process a transaction without stopping to consider the law and the potential outcomes?
  • Do you have lapses of concentration because of working very long hours; fatigue; pressure of workloads? Do you carry on working?
  • Do you find yourself cutting corners in relation to client work because of the pressure of time/workloads?

Reviewing your answers

Your answers to questions of this sort are indicative of the attitudes to risk of yourself and your colleagues.

It is often helpful to consider extremes as these demonstrate the range of possibilities and help you to place yourself on a scale relative to these extremes.

For instance, if you answered ‘YES’ to every question, that indicates that you become involved in situations which, objectively speaking, involve additional risks for yourself and your colleagues - risks of claims or complaints.

If, on the other hand, you answered ‘NO’ to every question then this probably indicates that you are aware of the risks involved in various sets of circumstances and are risk averse- i.e. choose to avoid these circumstances - or it may indicate that you are retired!  If we are being entirely honest, most of us would probably have to answer ‘sometimes’ to at least some of the questions above and that is part of the reason why risk management systems and procedures are so beneficial.  Whether it is a checklist or a file check or a double check, the point is the same - not to make up for incompetence but rather to address the blind spots, oversights, fatigue which any of us can experience in the course of our work.

The simplest system or procedure can make a big difference in improving risk management and quality of life.

Alistair Sim is Associate Director at Marsh UK Limited

The information/advice in this page is (a) advice on practical Risk Management and not on legal issues and (b) is necessarily of a generalised nature.  It is not specific to any practice or to any individual, nor should it be relied on as stating the correct legal position.

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