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Tracey Calvert

Director, Oakalls Consultancy

Effective supervision and ethics in the workplace

Effective supervision and ethics in the workplace


Recent disciplinary decisions highlight the need for managers and compliance officers to ensure the supervision of colleagues is adequate, writes Tracey Calvert

Recent disciplinary decisions highlight the need for managers and compliance officers to ensure the supervision of colleagues is adequate, writes Tracey Calvert

Disciplinary decisions made by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT)
are a vital source of information for compliance specialists. Some recent decisions reveal the regulator's and the SDT's expectations regarding supervision in the workplace.

For example, in a decision reported this year, a solicitor was struck off the roll by the SDT on dishonesty charges. The solicitor had pretended to carry out litigation and had provided her client with email updates on a case which did not exist. On leaving her job, the solicitor
took steps to close the case by taking money from another client's account, falsifying probate records in order to do
so, and sending a cheque for the exact amount of the maximum damages the client had intended to claim and the court fees
to the client. An interested commentator may well ask questions about the supervision of the individual and whether appropriate oversight would have rooted out such improper behaviour sooner.

In another matter, a solicitor whose lack of supervision contributed to a decision that a trainee's two years of work did not count towards her qualification was rebuked and fined £2,000 by the SRA. Here, the solicitor in question was an in-house legal consultant who had been authorised by the SRA as a training supervisor. In July 2011, a trainee was employed by the business and supervised by the solicitor. However, the supervising solicitor was on maternity leave from October 2011 to February 2013, during which time the trainee was unsupervised but continued to undertake legal work as a trainee solicitor. Why was the lack of supervision not addressed earlier so that steps could be taken to resolve the issues?

It is also important to remember that supervision, and by implication the oversight of ethical behaviour, extends to everyone working in law firms. A very recent disciplinary matter relates to a conveyancing clerk in a law firm who was rebuked by the SRA, ordered to pay a fine of £7,500 plus costs, and made the subject of an order banning him from working in the solicitor's profession without the SRA's permission. The offence the clerk had committed was to create two emails which gave the false impression that the client had given instructions in respect of the use of client money. How was it possible for this to happen or, put another way, where was the supervision of the clerk's work?Supervision supports SRA principle 8 that 'you must run your business or carry out your role in the business effectively and in accordance with proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles' and, of course, is very clearly addressed in chapter 7 of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011, which deals with compliance and ethical requirements relating to the management of your business.

A particularly obvious example of expectations is in outcome 7.8, which requires
that 'you have a system for supervising clients' matters, to include the regular checking of the quality of work by suitably competent and experienced people'. There is also the need
to comply with the duty in outcome 7.7 to 'comply with
the statutory requirements for the direction and supervision
of reserved legal activities and immigration work'.

Managers and compliance officers must take steps to ensure that the risks of poor supervision are addressed in their compliance plans, and that supervision of colleagues is adequate and effective. Such steps should demonstrate oversight of the quality and safe delivery of services to clients and also ensure that ethical and regulatory compliance issues are identified and dealt with in a timely manner.

What supervision looks like is very much a matter of judgement and needs to take into account many different things, such as
the type of business, the way in which it delivers services, the type and experience of colleagues in the firm, and the complexity of
their roles.

It should generate feedback both for the individual being supervised and for those in managerial and risk and compliance roles: does someone need specific training? Is someone's behaviour unethical? Is a business requirement
not suitable or in need of modification? How will issues
be addressed and remedied?
Are trainees and more junior colleagues being appropriately supported in their roles? Are supervisors properly trained, with sufficient resources to play their vital role in compliance?Appropriate supervisory methods will feed into and encourage many positive behaviours in the workplace and support an ethical environment. These include monitoring and improving client care values, addressing the competencies which are expected of solicitors when delivering a proper standard of service, developing appropriate training regimes, and fostering the all-important virtues of openness and accountability.

Tracey Calvert is director of Oakalls Consultancy Limited