Like most other skilled professions, the legal industry is engaged in a battle for talent. Although some large multi-national and City firms can offer eye-watering salaries to attract the best people, medium and small practices need to be creative when it comes to employee benefits. Being open to requests for hybrid/remote working is one way law firms can offer the work/life balance many people now crave. Consideration must be given to ensuring compliance with SRA and legislative requirements when implementing working from home arrangements. In this article, we guide you through the compliance issues concerning hybrid/remote working for solicitors.
What SRA Supervisory Requirements Must I Be Aware Of When Allowing Solicitors To Work From Home?
The SRA’s core regulatory requirements in relation to supervision are found in the two Codes of Conduct (the SRA Code for Solicitors, RELs and RFLs and the SRA Code for Firms), which should be read in the context of the SRA Principles.
If you are responsible for supervising or managing others, including junior solicitors and legal executives you must have an effective system for supervising work. This means ensuring that training is supervised by solicitors and other individuals with the necessary experience, supervisory skills, legal knowledge, and relevant expertise of their practice area.
What Issues Do I Need To Consider When Allowing Solicitors To Work From Home?
When setting up hybrid working it is important to consider:
- How will client information and data will be kept safe in accordance with the UK GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018?
- How staff will communicate with each other and confidentially with clients.
- What access will employees have to training and support materials?
- How will work be reviewed?
- What are the identified cybersecurity risks?
- How will remote staff keep their skills up to date?
How Can I Ensure Remote Workers Meet Statutory And Regulatory Compliance?
There are several ways you can ensure that law firm employees working from home are meeting legislative and SRA compliance, including:
- Have rules in place stating that employees should not use personal devices for work communications.
- Allocate IT-protected business owned equipment to homeworkers and ensure they are appropriately trained to recognise and support cybersecurity threats.
- Ensure that departments meet regularly online, and managers have one-to-one sessions with remote workers so they can discuss any challenges and opportunities and avoid feeling isolated.
- Remind employees not to work on client matters in public places such as cafes or when using free insecure WIFI connections. In addition, remote workers must ensure that hard copy files are stored securely when not in use and remain inaccessible to family members and visitors to their homes.
- Have clear policies and procedures in place around reporting cybersecurity threats, data breaches, client complaints, and Data Subject Access Requests (DSARs).
- Undertake a health and safety risk assessment of remote employees’ workstations. Things to note include an inappropriate desk and chair setups which could result in back pain, exposed cords that could cause someone to trip, and inappropriate keyboards which may bring on RSI or carpel tunnel syndrome.
Your law firm’s management team must formulate and communicate clear expectations and rules for remote/hybrid workers. Some remote workers will also have requested other flexible working arrangements, for example, job sharing and flexible hours. These must also be managed in the context of the employee(s) not being present in the office.
Working hours should be decided and senior managers must provide an example by not making unreasonable demands outside an employee’s set hours of work. Failure to do this could lead to an Employment Tribunal claim for stress, bullying, discrimination, or harassment and result in the employee making mistakes that could result in an SRA investigation.
Consideration must also be given to ensuring remote workers have the same opportunities for career progression and do not end up ‘out of sight and out of mind.’
Life after the Coronavirus pandemic includes a firm hope by many that hybrid/remote working requests will be considered. By setting expectations and ensuring all regulations and laws relating to the legal profession are complied with, there is no reason why such arrangements cannot be successful and help your firm attract and retain the talent it needs to prosper and grow.
We have been helping solicitors and other legal professionals with disciplinary and regulatory advice for 25 years. If you have any questions relating to an SRA investigation or an SDT appearance, please call us on 0151 909 2380 or complete our Free Online Enquiry.