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New Toxic Workplace Rules to Come into Force
May 2, 2023

 1. Introduction

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has been granted approval by the Legal Services Board (LSB) to make amendments to its rules regarding health and wellbeing.

Under these new plans, the SRA will set new rules making it clear that managers are responsible for challenging behaviours that do not meet the standards of treating staff fairly and with respect.

The changes to the code of conduct are part of a broader effort by the SRA to address and eliminate toxic behaviours in the workplace. The regulator recognises the importance of creating a safe and supportive work environment, and these changes are a significant step towards achieving that goal.

In addition to these changes, the SRA has also emphasised its commitment to prosecuting those who create or allow toxic behaviours to occur in the workplace, demonstrating its dedication to promoting a healthy and positive work culture within the legal profession.

Consulting on the changes last year, the SRA said: ‘We have seen some serious instances of people who work in law firms being treated unfairly and inappropriately. We consider it is vital that solicitors and their colleagues work together effectively and treat each other with respect and dignity.’

The regulator also stressed that apart from the impact on the mental well-being of law firm workers, toxic working environments pose regulatory risks, including poor outcomes for consumers and reducing public confidence in the profession.

While the LSB has granted the application to the rule change, the backing notice states that the SRA should provide definitions of bullying, harassment and discrimination and advises that further guidance would prevent creating unintentional barriers to reporting.

You can read the full notice here:

SRA secures backing for new ‘toxic workplace’ rules

 

 2. Current rules on well-being at work

Under current regulatory arrangements, the SRA can act where they see serious failings in the working environment, and expectations are set out in the following requirements:

  • The Code of Conduct for Firms requires firms to have effective systems and controls to ensure compliance with regulatory and legislative requirements. This includes employment, equality and health and safety legislation (paragraph 2). And obligations around effective supervision of client work (paragraph 4). The Code of Conduct for Solicitors, RELs and RFLs contains equivalent standards for individuals, including those carrying out a managerial role (paragraphs 7 and 3, respectively).
  • Our Principles require firms and individuals to act in a way that encourages equality, diversity and inclusion, to act with integrity, and to uphold public confidence in the solicitor’s profession. In the case of Beckwith v SRA [2020] EWHC 3231 (Admin), the court confirmed that the public would expect members of the profession to treat juniors with respect.

These rules provide grounds in which regulatory action can be taken in cases involving behaviour such as:

  • abuse by an individual of their position of authority or behaviour that amounts to discrimination, victimisation or harassment
  • a pattern of the abuse of authority by senior staff that has been left unchecked by the firm
  • a complaint of discrimination, victimisation or harassment that is not dealt with by the firm in a prompt and fair way
  • ineffective systems and controls, including failure to supervise or support staff leading to serious competence or performance issues or delivery failures.

However, the existing Codes of Conduct do not include an explicit requirement to treat people fairly at work, requiring the regulator to rely on these wider Principles and Standards.

Now approval has been granted; the SRA will announce in due course when changes come into force.

 

 3. Policies and procedures, including Employee Handbook Drafting

The process of working with a firm to deliver an accurate and bespoke set of policies and procedures can be a time-consuming task. However, The Strategic Partner’s approach ensures firms benefit from our experience and best practice implementation, which speeds up the process into a manageable time frame.

We will work with you to understand how your firm operates, interpret your firm’s requirements, and draft a bespoke set of policies that reflect how your firm manages its people, with the additional benefit of our experience in law firm management to ensure the firm adopts best practices.

Our Employee Handbook Drafting and (optional) Maintenance Service has been devised to provide law firms with an effective solution for implementing and managing their procedures for managing their staff.

Our services include the following, as standard:

  • An initial interview and discussion to consider the firm’s current approach to documenting employee-related policies and procedures. This review will enable us to gain insight into the firm and an understanding of core requirements.
  • Review of the current policies. Some firms are content with approaching this afresh.
  • Consulting with the firm to ensure that the required information is obtained to ensure the policies and procedures written are bespoke to the firm and reflect the day-to-day practices of the firm.
  • Advising as necessary on areas to change to adopt best practices.
  • Drafting the Employee Handbook for discussion and approval. Discussing the draft for a final agreement after reflecting any required changes.
  • Implementation of the Employee Handbook.

 

Download our brochure for more information:

Employee Handbook Drafting and Maintenance Service

 

 4. How confident are you about compliance?

Our goal is to ensure the firms we work with have and retain a compliant structure enabling the firms, their managers, and owners to focus on running their businesses and servicing their clients.

Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to risk and compliance, and a proactive response will keep the regulator from your door and help manage costs.

If you believe your firm may be at risk or wish to confirm your firm is achieving the required

standard, we offer a range of solutions at The Strategic Partner, including:

  • Regulation 21 AML 2017 Independent Audit – A review of the firm’s approach to regulation and compliance to include AML procedures with the audit meeting the requirements of Regulation 21 of the AML 2017. The output of which provides the firm with a written gap analysis and solutions to remedy any issues that arise and ensure the firm is compliant, find out more
  • Training– Our typical AML Training includes:
    • AML Training for ALL staff to meet the firm’s obligation to provide annual training.
    • 1-2-1 training for the MLRO and MLCO on their obligations and requirements.
    • Practical training for those involved in client onboarding to ensure their ID and AML checks are correctly completed.
  • File Reviews/Auditing – At TSP, we engage with firms undertaking file reviews where we consider your procedure, staff, systems, and files to ensure the procedures are up to the required standard and being implemented at case level with a report of the outcome.

 

Our packaged risk and compliance solutions provide guidance and support to firms on a range of topics and include: –

  • Our Risk, Regulation and Compliance Service (including AML)  provides firms with the necessary Policies Control and Procedures (PCP’s) alongside training, supervision structure, an annual independent assessment and reporting. This solution ensures that firms and their staff are compliant and remain so. It also clarifies what to do in the event of a mistake and/or a breach occurs.
  • Our extended service, Risk, Compliance, AML Guidance and Register Administration, provides an outsource solution for firms where The Strategic Partner not only manages and maintains the risk registers and provides guidance to all staff (inc. Partners). We also produce monthly risk and compliance reports.

Combining these two solutions provides a law firm with a robust and cost-effective risk and compliance strategy that ensures staff have access to expert guidance as needed.

 

 5. About The Strategic Partner

The Strategic Partner is a law firm knowledge hub. We work with law firms and professional indemnity insurers, advising and guiding on compliance and risk management techniques to assist and reduce instances of claims or regulatory breaches.

We offer a range of services and consultancy tailored to the Legal sector. We have gained a wealth of knowledge and experience in the overall management of law firms and work with them to achieve profitability, stability, and efficiency. We aim to become a valued and respected partner to our member law firms, consistently providing high-quality services and solutions.

For more information about The Strategic Partner, you can call us on 0203 911 9710, email us info@thestrategicpartner.co.uk or visit our website to make an online enquiry.

 

You can view and download the PDF version of this article here. 

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