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This article unpacks the current AML regulations for law firms in Australia and New Zealand, explains the best practices for implementing robust AML procedures, and lists the top AML tools available to Actionstep customers.

Originally published on the Actionstep blog. 

Anti-money laundering (AML) compliance is a constant priority for law firms.

As money laundering tactics grow increasingly complex, governments continue updating AML laws to close potential loopholes. Law firms must keep pace with these evolving regulations across jurisdictions. Non-compliance could expose firms to heavy penalties, reputational damage, and criminal liability.

This article unpacks the current AML regulations for law firms in Australia, and New Zealand, explains the best practices for implementing robust AML procedures, and lists the top AML tools available to Actionstep customers.

What is Money Laundering?

Money laundering is the process of concealing the origins of illegally obtained money. It typically involves three stages: placement, layering, and integration.

First, illicit funds enter the financial system (placement). Next, bad actors aim to hide their origins via a series of complex transactions and bookkeeping tricks (layering). Finally, they reintroduce the laundered money into the economy as legitimate (integration).

Law firms are heavily involved in financial deals. Therefore, they are particularly susceptible to being unwitting tools in the layering stage. Criminals often seek legal advice to create complex structures like trusts or companies, which can mask the true ownership of assets. The sophisticated nature of these schemes makes it challenging to detect and prevent money laundering.

International initiatives (such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) have been developed to combat money laundering. However, laundering techniques continue to evolve—meaning law firms must stay vigilant and evolve their AML processes.

What is AML?

Anti-Money Laundering (AML) refers to laws, regulations, and procedures designed to prevent criminals from disguising illegally obtained funds as legitimate income. AML frameworks aim to detect and deter money laundering activities by imposing certain obligations on financial institutions and other entities, including law firms.

AML regulations require institutions to implement specific measures such as customer due diligence (CDD), record-keeping, and reporting suspicious activities. For law firms, this means conducting thorough background checks on clients and maintaining detailed records of financial transactions. Additionally, firms must report any transactions that appear suspicious, which could indicate money laundering.

AML Laws and Regulations (AUS, NZ)

While Australia, and New Zealand each have their own AML regulations, the broad brushstrokes remain the same. Law firms must conduct customer due diligence, monitor clients’ financial activity, and report anything that seems suspicious.

Below, we outline each country’s specific AML regulations and regulatory bodies.

Note: These regulations were correct at the time of writing (November 2023). If you’re reading this article at a far later date, we recommend conducting additional research to confirm the information below.

AML regulations for Australian law firms

Under the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006, Australian law firms must adopt a client due diligence process, report any suspicious matters, and ensure that records of transactions and client identification are well-maintained.

Additionally, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) plays a crucial role in monitoring and regulating AML activities within the country.

AML regulations for New Zealand law firms

New Zealand’s approach is outlined in the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009. This act requires reporting entities to conduct due diligence, maintain records, and report suspicious activities.

It’s supported by guidelines from the Department of Internal Affairs. This is the primary AML/CFT supervisor for most reporting entities, including law firms.

How Can Law Firms Avoid Money Laundering?

Law firms have multiple AML strategies at their disposal. Remember that none of these processes alone will prevent money laundering. However, when used together, they form a powerful deterrent.

Develop a comprehensive AML compliance program
Establish policies and procedures tailored to your firm’s specific risk profile. Consistently update them to align with evolving AML laws and practices.

Conduct ongoing risk assessments
Identify potential vulnerabilities in your operations and monitor client profiles, transaction types, and service offerings.

Implement customer due diligence (CDD) protocols
Verify new clients’ identities and understand their business nature. Carry out enhanced due diligence for higher-risk clients.

Train staff regularly
Provide ongoing training to equip staff with the skills to identify and report suspicious activities, including updates on regulatory changes.

Utilise technology effectively
Leverage technology, like a legal practice management platform with robust AML features and integrations, for efficient compliance, including automated background checks and transaction monitoring.

Maintain accurate and comprehensive records
Keep detailed records of client interactions and financial transactions. Ensure they are readily accessible for audits or investigations.

Report suspicious activities
Have a clear process for reporting suspicious activities to the authorities, promoting a culture of transparency and responsibility.

Regularly review and update compliance measures
Continuously assess and adapt AML measures to address new threats or changes in the legal landscape.

Collaborate with legal and financial experts
Engage with AML experts for advice and consider joining professional networks for shared learning and updates.

The Best AML Tools for Law Firms

Preventing money laundering in law firms involves a combination of vigilance, effective procedures, and leveraging advanced technology. Actionstep’s integration with specialised AML tools plays a crucial role in this process. Here are the best AML tools for Actionstep customers in Australia, and New Zealand.

First AML (ANZ)

First AML simplifies the AML compliance process for law firms in Australia, and New Zealand. This tool automates customer due diligence and reporting, reducing the administrative burden on legal professionals. First AML’s integration with Actionstep streamlines data management, ensuring a seamless AML compliance workflow.

Discover more about First AML’s integration with Actionstep here.

Spinika (NZ)

Spinika specialises in AML compliance solutions specifically for New Zealand-based law firms. Its integration with Actionstep allows law firms to efficiently manage compliance obligations, including customer due diligence, monitoring, and reporting. Spinika’s platform ensures that AML procedures are thorough, up-to-date, and effectively integrated into the law firm’s daily operations.

Explore Spinika’s integration with Actionstep here.

AML: An Ongoing Priority

Preventing money laundering is a constant process. Law firms must ensure they stay up to date with evolving regulations, continually refine their AML strategies, and use the latest AML tools.

AML must be a constant priority—not a periodic afterthought. With the right approach, you can ensure your law firm stays compliant and doesn’t become involved in money laundering activities.

Written by The Actionstep Team

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Actionstep
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With Actionstep, midsize law firms get total control over their future success. Actionstep’s comprehensive legal business management platform is built to adapt to a firm’s unique strengths and goals, empowering firms to modernise and build a firm advantage in the legal marketplace.

Actionstep’s connected features like client intake, matter management, document management, time tracking, billing, accounting, and business reporting, equips over 38,000 users globally to delight clients, work more profitably, and confidently embrace the future.

Build your firm advantage with Actionstep. Visit www.actionstep.com to learn more.

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