The Law Society has issued 'good practice guidance' on the supervision of junior staff and trainees, as restrictions relax and many firms are returning to the office with hybrid and flexible working models in place. 

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: It’s clear the pandemic has changed the way we view work. We want to guide our members on how to ensure their junior staff are being supported in the best possible way.” 

Boyce commented: “There are some areas of good practice that should be taken into account when deciding working arrangements to ensure junior staff, and trainees in particular, are appropriately supervised and supported as the profession plans its return to the office. 

“As such, we have developed guidance based on member feedback to support employers and staff come to suitable working arrangements… aimed at firms and organisations which are considering flexible or hybrid working arrangements once everyone is allowed to return to the office.” 

The guidance covers regulatory requirements, remote supervision and feedback, working patterns, opportunities for development, technology, wellbeing and reasonable adjustments. 

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has advised firms to ensure they have “appropriate and adequate” measures in place to effectively supervise trainees. However, it acknowledged “appropriate supervision” will look different in every firm and said the term “provides a degree of flexibility”. 

The SRA also said issues with misconduct or dishonesty should be dealt with in the usual way. It confirmed firms remain accountable for trainee supervision decisions, and arrangements must align with the SRA’s overall approach to enforcement.

This reflects the recent stance of the courts in a case involving trainee supervision, as reported last month, where lockdown was deemed no excuse for a lack of supervision.

The guidance advises clear and regular communication via phone, video calls and email, with plenty of opportunity to ask questions and regular catch ups and feedback.

Supervisors are encouraged to share their thinking, for example by “thinking out loud” while working, to use technology to jointly draft documents on separate screens and to use coaching questions rather than providing solutions. 

The importance of casual conversations is also highlighted, and supervisors are reminded that more ad hoc opportunities to join a meeting or call, for example, will not naturally arise remotely. 

The guidance recommends that working patterns and expectations are clearly set, and employers are advised to try and strike a balance between affording junior staff the right to work remotely against the developmental advantages of being in the office. 

It is also suggested that supervisors and junior staff overlap at least two days a week in the office, where possible. 

The importance of wellbeing and striking a balance between home and work when working remotely is also highlighted. The Law Society has also prepared guidance on wellbeing in the workplace, available here.

The guidance reports that, before the pandemic, many disabled solicitors requested reasonable adjustments to work remotely, but these were often refused. However, as the effectiveness of remote working has now been proven, firms should be aware this will add weight to the argument that remote working should be considered a reasonable adjustment.

The Law Society stressed the guidance is not mandatory and that it should be interpreted by firms as they see fit, depending on the size of the firm and the nature of the work being undertaken.

Boyce concluded: “The Law Society will be on hand to help our members support their staff in the coming months and will continue to monitor the guidance issued from the UK government as lockdown restrictions are eased.” 

The new remote supervision guidance is available here.

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