Is the compliance function a must-have or good-to-have in law firms?

Author Miya Toh 杜心慧
september 19, 2023

In today’s fast-paced and complex legal and regulatory landscape, law firms face an array of challenges beyond providing expert counsel to their clients. The need to navigate a web of ever-evolving regulations, mitigate risks, and maintain rigorous ethical standards has made it paramount for said firms to establish strong in-house risk and compliance teams. This strategic shift towards compliance would allow the company to transition from a reactive stance to a proactive approach in identifying and addressing potential issues. 


Ethical challenges within the legal sectors are constantly evolving. This has led to an increased focus on ethics training and adept conflict-of-interest management. These measures are instrumental in safeguarding the firm’s reputation and upholding the integrity of the legal profession as a whole.

From anti-money laundering to data privacy to industry-specific regulations, staying compliant is a multifaceted challenge. This often requires the expertise of compliance professionals who assist law firms in interpreting, implementing and adhering to these complex regulations, ultimately reducing the risk of legal violations.

Continuous education and training are essential for both lawyers and staff to stay well-informed about evolving regulations and ethical standards. Such ongoing training ensures that everyone in the firm is fully equipped to effectively navigate compliance challenges in an ever-changing environment.


Law firms are proactively adopting comprehensive risk assessment frameworks to evaluate both internal and external risks. These regular risk assessments serve as a valuable tool for identifying potential compliance gaps and allow firms to take preemptive actions in order to mitigate risks before they escalate.

It is important to acknowledge that law firms, despite their expertise, are not immune to the risks they advise their clients on. Potential challenges such as litigation, conflicts of interest, and ethical lapses can pose significant threats to a law firm’s reputation and financial stability.

To safeguard against these risks, law firms are increasingly relying on in-house Compliance professionals. This proactive approach not only saves the firm from costly legal battles and regulatory fines, but also protects the firm’s reputation.

Data privacy and cybersecurity

Data privacy regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) and Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL), have created a heightened focus on global data protection efforts. In response, law firms are now bolstering their cybersecurity measures to ensure the safeguarding of sensitive client information. This includes the implementation of secure communication channels and comprehensive training programs on best practices in data privacy.

Recognising the importance of data privacy, many law firms are also considering the addition of in-house experts such as Privacy Lawyers and Data Governance Lawyers. These professionals are instrumental in developing and implementing robust information governance and data protection protocols, making sure the client information is handled with utmost care – safeguarding against data breaches and cyber threats.

It is therefore apparent that the compliance function is no longer merely a choice but a fundamental necessity for law firms.

As compliance trends continue to shape the legal industry, law firms that prioritise these trends and integrate them into their culture and operations will find themselves better equipped to navigate the complexities of modern legal practice and consequently result in the long-term success of law firms in an ever-changing environment.

Miya has worked closely with law firms to build out their Risk and Compliance function across the region and can offer tailored solutions for you as a client or candidate. Please reach out to Miya Toh for specialist insights if you require bespoke salary advice or benchmarking for you or your team.

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