You don’t need to be one of our highly qualified Lexcel Consultants to know that law firms must be adequately supervised. Rule 12 of the SRA Practice Framework Rules requires a manager – i.e. a director, member of an LLP, or partner – who is ‘qualified to supervise’.
This is someone who has undergone the requisite training and who is a practising lawyer, and who has been entitled to practise as a lawyer for at least 36 months in the previous 10 years. The guidance adds that the person doesn’t have to supervise personally all work undertaken: responsibility for the overall supervision framework, including legal supervisory requirements, rests with the authorised body and its managers.
Code of Conduct
The Code of Conduct requires a system for supervising clients’ matters, including regular checks by competent and experienced people; so supervision includes file reviews. Introduced by the SRA in 2011, this was a Lexcel requirement for many years previously. But nothing else in the SRA Handbook explains what you have to do or even how, or when, to do it. Nor is there guidance in any other English authority, apart from an SDT decision (Houldcroft, 2005) where the Respondent had left post-completion conveyancing matters – including accounts – to untrained staff. The Tribunal stated:
“A solicitor is required to exercise full proper and complete supervision over employees to ensure that they are carrying out work properly. This is fundamental… There [was] no suggestion that the Respondent behaved dishonestly but he cannot escape responsibility … for the serious breaches that occurred.”
Common Law Authorities Reviewed
Again, this doesn’t advance us far except to confirm that dishonesty is not a necessary part of failure to supervise. Fortunately, the common law comes to the rescue. In Law Society of Singapore –v- Allen  4 SLR 699, the High Court of Singapore reviewed common law authorities, in particular Law Society of New South Wales –v- Foreman (1991). The Australian case defined supervision as:
- A knowledge of the law being applied
- Its proper application to the transaction
- Efficient and effective processing of the transaction from start to finish
- Meeting statutory and other requirements for money coming into the firm, and
- Meeting the general obligations of legal practice – e.g. conflicts of interest and ethics
This does not mean that you must supervise everything; much depends on the supervisee’s experience, qualifications, ability and integrity, as well as on the type and complexity of the work. ‘One size fits all’ is inappropriate: you must consider the extent of supervision for each person and each matter, maintaining sufficiently close oversight to see cases through. This includes ensuring that your staff understand and apply the practice rules.
At Enderley we are experts in devising appropriate and effective supervision and risk management structures for all types of legal work. You can contact us today on 01939 262502 for a no obligation consultation.
Enderley Consulting Limited