The Covid-19 pandemic has irrevocably changed our professional and personal lives. Since March 2020, solicitors have been working and supervising junior staff and trainees remotely.
The pandemic has changed the way we view working arrangements and as offices open up many firms and organisations are considering a hybrid model, with some form of remote working alongside time spent in the office.
We want to support our members through this transition, so we have produced guidance which sets out areas of good practice that firms and organisations should consider when deciding working arrangements, to ensure junior staff and trainees are appropriately supervised and supported when working remotely.
The guidance covers regulatory requirements; remote supervision; feedback; working patterns; development opportunities; technology; wellbeing; reasonable adjustments and help and guidance.
While these are not requirements, we would encourage firms and organisations to consider the areas raised and interpret them in the most appropriate way for their business.
Communication is key
Clear communication and feedback are essential to enabling junior staff to understand their roles and responsibilities. This should not drop off because of remote or hybrid working.
We recommend that junior staff communicate regularly in-person with their supervisors, through formal catch ups and more casual interactions. This allows for any questions to be asked and clarifications sought, while allowing the supervisor to gauge the junior member of staff’s workload and wellbeing.
In addition to this, firms and organisations should continue to consider how best to utilise the technology we have all become familiar with using during the pandemic for supervisory purposes, such as video conferencing, email or phone calls.
Formal written feedback is also highly beneficial as it can be used as part of the record a candidate may keep towards their training or qualifying work experience.
The Covid-19 pandemic may have increased pressures and stresses on staff. Aside from the day-to-day management of junior staff, there has been a shift towards greater support of employee wellbeing.
This positive step should continue, and firms should consider how a change in working arrangements may positively or negatively affect an employee’s wellbeing.
For supervision, it’s important to consider that it’s harder to know how people are managing without the close contact that you would experience being in an office every day and it’s important to ensure junior staff feel they’re supported.
Firms should consider how to create an atmosphere where staff feel comfortable approaching supervisors with problems that may affect their work, in a confidential and private environment.
We have produced guidance on supporting wellbeing in the workplace, which may help firms and organisations with where to start this process.
Disability officer and reasonable adjustments
Firms should also consider how to support their employees via any reasonable adjustments, including the proportion of time spent working remotely.
Some disabled solicitors who have previously asked for reasonable adjustments to work remotely, but were refused, have seen a positive change due to the pandemic, as the effectiveness of this way of working has now been proven.
Firms and organisations may find it useful to have a dedicated disability officer, who can act as a point of contact for disabled employees to discuss new working arrangements, reasonable adjustments and any changes they may need but may not be comfortable speaking to their supervisor about.
Research by Legally Disabled and Cardiff University published in 2020 has been used to create guidance to make a positive change to improve disability inclusion.
Developed in conjunction with our Lawyers with Disabilities Division the guidance includes questions to get discussions going and starting points for further work, rather than actions firms or organisations should be taking.
The Law Society will be on hand to help our members support their staff in the coming months and we will continue to monitor the guidance issued from the UK government as it continues to ease lockdown restrictions.
Read the Law Society’s new remote supervision guidance.
Dr Victoria Roper is an associate professor at Northumbria University and chair of the education and training committee at the Law Society.