Tips on supervising solicitors remotely during the pandemic.

Tips on supervising solicitors remotely during the pandemic.


Written By: Richard Nelson & Marie Dancer, Richard Nelson LLP
Edition: October 2020

Having answered questions on this topic in September for a webinar hosted by the Nottinghamshire Law Society, Marie Dancer and Richard Nelson of Richard Nelson LLP set out their top tips for law firms regarding supervision during the pandemic.

 

  1. File Reviews

File reviews are a good risk management tool. Increasingly on PII renewal documentation, firms are asked about whether they conduct them and the frequency of them. They inform and protect the firm and are required by the SRA.

File reviews are a true test of whether fee earners are complying with a firm’s procedures and expected standards. With the challenges of more remote working, firms need to be confident that they are maintaining quality and that the firm meets the new Standards and Regulations.

Our file reviewing tips include:

  • If firms have not done so already, consider investing in a case management system and have paperless files. This facilitates remote file reviewing.
  • Review recently closed files as well as open files, to get an overview of the way in which files are being manged from start to end.
  • Communication is a key aspect of providing feedback following a file review. This should ideally be done by a short video call, to avoid any misunderstandings, which can easily arise when providing feedback via email, particularly when staff are working away from the office and may be feeling more isolated and sensitive than normal;
  • It is worth checking how fee earners are taking instructions and how documents have been signed or witnessed, to check that this complies with current guidance and the firm’s own policies.

 

  1. Communication

Communication more important than ever. Many people report feeling more out of control and anxious. Good communication is therefore key to combat feelings of isolation and to ensure that members of the firm continue to feel connected to each other.

Our communication tips include:

  • Review your methods of communication. We found that having a What’s App group for the staff (or department) kept staff in touch with us and each other. In addition, when unexpectedly we needed close the office for a deep clean, we used the What’s App group to communicate this decision quickly and efficiently to the whole team. Had we just circulated an email, not everyone would have seen it before setting off to work, but everyone read the What’s App message.
  • Video meetings rather than phone calls are more personal.
  • Communication needs to be two way. Firms need to provide opportunities to listen to staff, giving them the opportunity to raise questions and concerns.

 

  1. Wellbeing

There is nothing new about wellbeing, but it is important for firms to acknowledge that currently we are all experiencing a more challenging time and that it is perfectly normal to feel up and down. Firms will want to look after their staff, but even from a purely commercial perspective, firms who invest in their staff’s wellbeing will benefit from increased productivity, reduced sickness absence and an increased retention rate.

Our key tips for managing the wellbeing of staff include:

  • Set up a buddy/mentoring scheme.
  • Promote staff awareness of wellbeing, to equip staff to manage this.
  • Check workloads are sufficient but not excessive.
  • Foster an open culture, where senior members of the firm are approachable and are non-judgemental when people reach out for help.
  • Conduct a survey of the staff to check on their wellbeing. We used a wellbeing training company, Aspire, who offer a free service to survey the staff’s wellbeing, allowing staff to provide anonymous and therefore more candid feedback about how they were coping and what the firm could do better to support the staff. (https://www.aspiretraining.solutions/wellteam-assessment)

 

  1. Training

It is easy to overlook that junior lawyers learn a lot from experienced colleagues by working nearby, overhearing advice being given to clients by telephone and simply picking things up by osmosis. Replicating this learning experience is challenging when fee earners are working remotely.

  • Supervision and mentoring therefore needs to be planned, with specific time set aside.
  • Consider increasing the amount of 1:1 supervision sessions for those working remotely, to ensure that any training or wellbeing issues are more quickly identified.
  • Make the time to speak to your colleagues and to check their work. Don’t gloss over any signs that there are problems or mistakes and address issues as they arise. It will pay dividends.