Remote supervision: checklist for junior litigators
An increase in remote working has brought a new challenge for supervision of junior lawyers, especially if you work in litigation. Charlotte Parkinson and members of our JLD committee share advice on how to make sure you’re staying compliant and getting the support you need.
1. Be careful who you live with
Be mindful of client confidentiality if you're working from home and live with others. It's unlikely your housemates are your colleagues, so be careful where you leave papers and who can overhear your conversations.
2. Diarise your deadlines
All deadlines (time and date) should be diarised. Missing a court deadline can mean game over, so these should always be diarised as 'high priority' in your diary and in the diaries of every supervisor/partner who works on the matter with you.
You should also get into the habit of diarising other, softer deadlines, such as the date by which your opponent may have requested your response to a letter.
3. Make a countdown
Not only should you put the final deadline for an action in the diary, think about diarising the countdowns too – particularly with court deadlines.
For example, one to three weeks until a defence is due to be filed and served, one month to limitation, and so on.
4. Pay attention to court orders
Court orders should be read very carefully, and you should note exactly what it is that the court requires.
Include this information within the reminders in your diary – for example, do you need to file a hard copy or electronically? And do you need to file and serve, or just serve?
5. Check and check again
Little mistakes are easy to make, so get into the habit of checking everything before making your final move. This could be double-checking the people you are about to email, or opening the attachment and making sure that is the right version (or document).
Also, lawyers generally are not mathematicians, so if you're calculating limitation or counting clear days, make sure you're sure in your answer.
6. Build in time for supervisor checks
Even though you may feel like you're working alone at the moment, supervision is still required.
If you're working to a deadline, have you factored in time and made a soft deadline by which to send something to your supervisor for checking?
If you're struggling or unsure of something, can you put some time in the diary with a colleague/supervisor to talk it through and get a little clarity?
Also, do you know who else you can contact if your regular supervisor is unavailable? With the holidays upon us, many colleagues will be taking a deserved break from their email traffic, so make sure you know who is on leave when and who to go to in their absence.
7. Have you recorded your decisions?
A lot of information will now be given over the telephone, including instructions and authorisation to send out documents/correspondence.
Make sure you're keeping a proper attendance note of all conversations (including instant message conversations, which do not always archive).
If you feel like you're making a decision or putting a final point out to the other side or the client, is that decision supported by your supervisor? Do you have a paper trail as evidence of this support/approval?
8. Are you still recording your time?
Don't forget about time recording. It's good practice to be in the habit of recording time as you go, and it will help you see where your day has been spent.
Some firms also use this to gain an indication of whether someone has capacity – so you may be really busy, but if you're not recording your time, you may find more and more work coming your way, because supervisors don't have proper visibility.
9. Keep communicating
At the moment, a lot of us feel like we're trying (some better than others) to make an impact in a virtual world.
Remember that – even though we're all working remotely – you’re still part of a team and it's important that regular communication and feedback happens as it would in the office.
- what kind of supervision did you expect or want, and what do you need right now?
- when was the last time you received feedback or had a conversation with a colleague?
Make sure you reflect on these questions each week. Put some time in the calendar, possibly for a virtual coffee to ensure you're having as much contact as possible with your team.
10. If something might be wrong, speak up
We're all human. That means everyone can make mistakes. Particularly in a fast-paced, court-deadline world of litigation, it can be easy to miss something.
The important thing to remember is that you need to speak up – you can't get help if no one else knows about it.
As soon as you think something may have gone wrong, find a colleague who you feel you can talk to about it, and who can support you.
Accept that something went wrong and consider what you might be able to do about it, then talk those ideas out with a more senior colleague – a problem shared really can be a problem halved!