Pearl Moses gives us her top tips on your regulatory obligations around supervision when many colleagues are still working remotely.

Recently, in a series of webinars with local Law Societies, I have been discussing the challenges of virtual supervision with a number of practitioners ranging from ‘magic circle’ firms to High Street and sole practitioners and many of them share best practice despite the disparities in size and—sometimes—resources.

This is an amalgamation of top tips for managing your obligations to successfully supervise remotely.

The SRA requirements

As a reminder, the obligations for supervision sit under 3.5 and 3.6 of the Code for Individuals of the SRA Standards and Regulations:

3.5 Where you supervise or manage others providing legal services:

  • you remain accountable for the work carried out through them; and
  • you effectively supervise work being done for clients.

3.6 You ensure that the individuals you manage are competent to carry out their role, and keep their professional knowledge and skills, as well as understanding of their legal, ethical and regulatory obligations, up to date.’

The obligation sits too with the firm and under 4.3 and 4.4 of the Code for Firms:

4.3 You ensure that your managers and employees are competent to carry out their role, and keep their professional knowledge and skills, as well as understanding of their legal, ethical and regulatory obligations, up to date.

4.4 You have an effective system for supervising clients’ matters.’

1. Good supervision is good practice

Remember that although supervision is a regulatory requirement if done properly it also yields a whole range of benefits. Although everyone has a role to play the ultimate responsibility lies with the supervising manager. Good supervision:

  • provides independence from client interest
  • minimises risk across the business
  • helps to spot errors promptly
  • enhances skills and provides a framework for individual development
  • allows better support and therefore better well-being among staff
  • provides greater efficiency and therefore greater profitability

2. Delegate wisely

It’s important to think about delegation as it will operate differently remotely from delegation in person. Avoid ‘dumping’ rather than ‘delegating’ by asking yourself:

  • is the work tailored to the delegate?
  • does the matter match the fee earner’s skillset?
  • do they understand the brief/instruction?
  • do they have the capacity to undertake the work?
  • are they motivated to do the work?

It’s trickier to assess the supervisee’s reactions if you can’t see them so try and replicate the office environment by delegating work via video link so you pick up on any non-verbal clues that might be otherwise missed via email/telephone.

3. Be supportive - coaching and feedback

It’s very important that you build a rapport of trust and some good advice is to ‘check in rather than check up’. Supervisors and managers should be advocates and supporters as much as mentors so diarise regular video or phone calls to make staff feel engaged and to ensure they are comfortable with their workload.

Take time to give appropriate feedback so that physical isolation doesn’t mean dis-engagement. Don’t assume that just because you don’t hear from someone that ‘they are getting on with it’. Look out for any red flags around mental health issues and don’t under-estimate the importance of listening.

4. Collaborate

It’s much more challenging to collaborate in the virtual space but it can be done by using technology in more innovative ways. Consider:

  • collaborating in ‘real time’ by sharing your screen with a trainee or junior when you’re working on a task they might learn from
  • creating peer groups to break down barriers and share problems
  • setting up learning support cohorts of 5 or 6 people in similar areas of work
  • establishing virtual Q and A sessions for trainees to pose problems
  • encouraging social interaction through after-work quizzes, coffee meetings and virtual drinks

5. Provide appropriate resources

It’s important to provide cover where possible, including if someone is ill—supervisors will need a caretaker in their absence. Be mindful that with illness and furlough there may be a lack of admin support, so you may have to provide more training and assistance to your fee earners/trainees to fill those gaps.

With IT issues, larger firms will likely have the resources to address many of the technological issues that arise with remote working but smaller firms may have to buy in expertise and additional equipment until the appropriate IT is bedded in and working for remote staff.

6. Supervising from a distance - practical tips

Remember that supervision is a way to support colleagues and this is needed more than ever if done remotely. Think of ways to ensure supervision continues in your firm by considering the following:

• if you can, video call your people – it is not the same as face to face but better than a phone call and much better than email

• try and have a regular catch up slot (weekly, fortnightly as appropriate)

• check workloads - especially if the fee earner has reduced their hours

• if fee earners have been furloughed re-allocate their work

• use shared calendars to keep up-to-date with work in teams

• encourage people to share what they are working on

• continue file reviewing and checking work and the post

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