In December’s webinar, we predicted the top compliance topics of 2022. Wellbeing and culture made it into the Top 10.
Workplace culture ties into equality and diversity, as well as recent cases involving sexual misconduct and junior lawyer strike offs.
Rule changes under the SRA wellbeing consultation
The SRA’s recent Thematic Review identified a pressing need to address workplace culture, discrimination and harassment.
The proposed rule changes include:
- Conduct rules to compel individuals and firms to treat peers fairly and with respect, and challenge peers who fail to do so
- Introducing a ‘fitness to practise’ test
Protection under the new rules will extend to all ‘colleagues’, which will encompass not just employees but external counsel, experts and consultants. It will also extend beyond the office walls, to include social events. Perhaps an acknowledgment of the problems the SRA had prosecuting in the Beckwith case.
As well as a positive requirement on firms and individuals to treat colleagues fairly and with respect, there will be a specific requirement to report peers who display bullying and harassing behaviour (or ‘shop your boss‘, as we like to think about it). This is to reduce the ‘active by-stander culture’.
SRA spokespeople have said that there these are not major changes to the scope of rules, since they are already implicit in the SRA Principles (to act with integrity, encourage equality and inclusion, and uphold public trust in the profession). Instead, the new rules are designed to assist the profession understand the regulator’s expectations.
They say they are only interested in situations that pose a serious risk to clients, colleagues or the public.
Further, they say that they have no interest in getting involved in billing target disputes, allocation of work, or any other HR or workplace issue, unless those things are manifestations of a wider bullying culture.
According to the SRA, the changes are not about prescribing a particular work culture and they are not trying to make an unhealthy work culture a regulatory offence. The principal aim is to make it clear that particular patterns behaviours are unacceptable in regulated firms. One off cases of bullying are unlikely to require regulatory action.
Of course, they say these things now, but regulators are often guilty of mission creep and overreach.
The COLP’s role in wellbeing and culture
The COLP clearly has a central role in all this.
Although the new rules impose a joint responsibility in people in the firm, the COLP is ultimately responsible for ensuring the firm is running as required by the SRA.
This will now include:
- putting in place controls to protect wellbeing
- ensuring there is a culture that makes this possible
Free help from LawCare
Wellbeing is of paramount importance and people may find they need support at times.
LawCare is the mental wellbeing charity for the legal profession offering free, confidential, emotional support, peer support, and resources to those working in the law.
If you need support call 0800 279 6888, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.lawcare.org.uk