An Oxbridge entrance examination from many years ago posed a deceptively fiendish question.
‘What is risk?’
One unfazed sixth-former gave a one-word answer – ‘This’ – and was promptly offered a place for their intellectual precocity.
That story sounds unlikely to me, but I hope it’s true. The student in question deserves to be a Supreme Court judge, at the very least. Maybe it was Jonathan Sumption or Brenda Hale.
I recalled this (probably apocryphal) tale when pondering the subject of our latest Gazette roundtable. How can one reach a new definition of ‘risk’ to a legal practice in an environment of remote and/or hybrid working?
I can’t be as concise as the maverick Oxbridge aspirant. But judging from our roundtable conversation, perhaps ‘risk’ in this context rests on four main pillars: technology, communication, staff welfare and recruitment. With recruitment perhaps the most challenging. Onboarding new people remotely is very difficult indeed; and when you can’t see what your people are doing, so much has to be taken on trust.
Getting the culture of your firm right is a prerequisite too: and that is the subject of another contribution this week (p30).
In terms of formal compliance, perhaps it is time for the Solicitors Regulation Authority to issue a virtual practice handbook. So argues our columnist Jonathan Goldsmith, former secretary general of the CCBE, in his weekly Gazette blog. The fact the SRA had to issue specific advice aimed at virtual practice during the pandemic shows that such practice has special features, he notes. But though this advice is largely excellent, it remains tied to the pandemic and cannot all be found in one place. As the pandemic recedes, it will still be needed.
One would expect the regulator to consider the need for discrete rules in this area when we have a clearer picture of how the profession will configure post-pandemic. But it should also be remembered that the new Standards and Regulations were designed to adapt to a rapidly changing sector. They are about to be stress-tested once again.