“Every law firm must attempt to stay ahead of the needs and future expectations of the ‘Client Marketplace,’ in order to stay competitive. Law firms dedicated to consumer legal collections know this all too well. The recent national focus upon the financial services industry as a whole, and particularly the debt collection aspect, is causing a rapid change in client needs and expectations. As a result, lenders and businesses dedicated to collecting receivables need their law firms to demonstrate a commitment to compliance,” said Chris Couch, Managing Member or Couch, Conville & Blitt, LLC.
One way that Couch, Conville & Blitt chose to demonstrate their commitment was to have an SSAE 16 audit. (SSAE 16 replaced the old SAS 70 Standards) The SSAE 16 website states, “Think of the SSAE 16 as an annual investment into your company, increasing potential new clients, productivity and accountability.” The site then lists several potential benefits of going through this process and becoming an SSAE 16 qualified service provider:
- Ability to perform outsourcing services for Public Companies.
- Public and Private companies are more likely to trust your organization with their data.
- A year round accessible knowledge source (your auditors).
- A third party to review your controls and activities to ensure they are functioning appropriately.
- Improving performance of the organization.
Chris added, “In an ongoing attempt to be pro-active in managing client expectations, I began exploring opportunities to further demonstrate our commitment to meeting the strict scrutiny of regulators, large clients, and other stakeholders in the legal collection arena. During this process, I spent some time learning about external audits, particularly SSAE 16. SSAE 16 is an audit standard for service organizations set forth by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Some of the larger original creditors are requiring or considering some level of an SSAE16 audit for their service providers, including law firms.”
Chris continued, “After reviewing the SSAE16 process, I felt it was a positive step for our firm at this time. I hoped that we would gain internal and external benefits. Last summer, we hired a third-party CPA firm to perform the audit. We chose the SOC 1 standard, which focuses upon core business processes and controls. In September 2012, we received a report from the CPA firm confirming our SSAE 16 compliance.
“From an internal perspective, the process proved to be a valuable exercise in that it allowed our Management Team to perform a ‘deep dive’ into all of our core legal and operational processes. With regard to the external value, I believe that clients and prospective clients will view our compliance as a clear symbol of our commitment to providing compliant legal services.”
The National List applauds Couch, Conville & Blitt for obtaining a third-party review of their controls and core processes. In the NL survey conducted earlier this year, we still used the term “SAS 70.” Of 230 NL law firm members surveyed, 27 reported they are SAS 70 compliant, 10 say they have begun the process but haven’t had the audit yet. In 2013, we will ask about SSAE 16 compliance in our annual RFI. Please share your thoughts on this topic, and let us know if you plan to have an SSAE 16 audit.
By Beverly Unrath and Christopher J. Couch