The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) is saddened by the devastating impact COVID-19 is having on people’s lives. The protection of society’s most vulnerable is in our foremost thoughts and we wish for the timely demise of this cruel virus.
We also acknowledge that the virus is having an unprecedented impact on businesses, as well as their employees.
At this time, we write to you to raise awareness of one specific concern, the impact of COVID- 19 on trainee solicitors.
You may have seen that we wrote to the SRA to ask for clarity on the position of training contracts, in light of the impact of COVID-19, but we believe it is important to reach out to firms as well.
We fully appreciate that there are tough times ahead and that law firms are having to make difficult decisions in respect of employees. However, we ask that you take the time to consider the special circumstances and the SRA’s training contract requirements for trainee solicitors, and the impact that decisions made may have on their future.
We have already been contacted by current trainee solicitors who have been put on furlough. We have also been contacted by trainee solicitors (current and future) who are concerned about their future, anticipating that they will be put on furlough soon or have their training contract start date deferred. This is why the JLD believes it is vital to reach out to you now.
The concern for trainee solicitors is not just about having a job and receiving a salary; there is concern as to what this will mean in respect of their path to qualification, particularly for those qualifying in September 2020. All current and future trainee solicitors are concerned about possible delays to becoming a solicitor.
The SRA has now provided guidance to confirm that it would accept firms putting sensible arrangements in place for supervisors to review trainees’ work remotely. It has also stated that, provided such arrangements can be put in place, an extended period of remote supervision, particularly in the current circumstances, would not be expected to impact on the duration of a period of recognised training. We would hope that, in light of this guidance, you can now provide reassurance and support to your trainee solicitors.
If it is considered that sensible arrangements cannot be put in place and decisions have to be made on the furlough of trainee solicitors, please take the time to explain to your trainees why this decision has been taken as well as explaining the potential impact on their training contract and qualification.
We appreciate that you will not necessarily have all the answers, but it is often the uncertainty that is most difficult for all of us, not just trainee solicitors, and so maintaining an open line of communication and being transparent is vital in making the situation more manageable for the firm and the trainee solicitors.
Where possible, we ask that you consider whether it is entirely necessary to furlough trainee solicitors. Although they may be working from home and will not be physically near a supervisor, this does not mean that their role and their training contract needs to be suspended. In this digital era, it is easier than ever to stay in touch remotely and we ask that you use the means available to you, as a firm, to supervise remotely.
We do also understand that this may not be possible for all firms as so many find that the work has decreased significantly, and the worry is there may not be appropriate work for trainee solicitors to get involved in. Accordingly, with the above in mind, we want to encourage firms to think of all other possibilities prior to making a decision to furlough trainee solicitors.
Finally, for those trainee solicitors that are working from home in this current climate, we advise firms, if they have not already done so, to reach out to their trainee solicitors. We suggest that firms:
provide guidance on working from home, particularly on requesting work and asking for feedback from fee earners;
offer supervisory support for trainee solicitors and their respective supervisors so that the SRA training contract requirements can continue to be met;
encourage trainee solicitors to ask questions and to share their concerns so that the firm can respond accordingly; and
- offer mental health support to trainee solicitors at a time when we are all adjusting to significant changes which can put additional pressure on individuals.
We hope you understand why we have taken the time to write this letter. In this time of uncertainty, it is vital that we work together to ensure that the profession is in as strong a position as possible for when things return to some kind of normality.
The Junior Lawyers Division
The views expressed in this letter are those of the Junior Lawyers Division and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Law Society of England and Wales or any other organisation, unless otherwise stated