Killing Two Birds With One Stone: Combining Prevention With the Integration of a New Teleworking Lawyer
In the context in which we now find ourselves, living through the COVID-19 pandemic, teleworking has become our new reality. But it’s not always easy to work remotely.
With teleworking, we have lost the benefit of physical proximity between colleagues’ offices. We can no longer sneak into the hallway to look through a half-open door to see if our colleague is available so we can ask a question. As we now sit behind our screens at home, we are more hesitant to ask for our colleagues’ opinions through electronic communications or by phone.
This situation can be exacerbated when a new lawyer joins a firm as it’s not always easy to start a new position from a distance.
While this article does not claim to be exhaustive, it presents a few key suggestions for facilitating the virtual arrival of a new lawyer within a firm and for avoiding the potential professional lapses that can result from the pitfalls sometimes encountered after the remote arrival of a colleague.
Provide resources as soon as the new lawyer arrives
- Inform the new lawyer about the available technologies and provide training in how to use them. When properly used, these tools can be very useful in meeting professional obligations. For example, think about tools that deal with the management of deadlines.
- Designate a contact person/mentor to answer questions.
Create links with the firm
- Communicate the firm’s culture, missions, values and vision by providing the new lawyer with information on internal policies, communication standards, document classification, dress code (even when working remotely!), etiquette during videoconferences, etc.;
- Encourage virtual meetings between the firm’s lawyers. For example, a weekly meeting between colleagues from the same work group will allow them to take each other’s "pulse", to discuss any problems encountered in their files and to keep in touch despite the physical distance.
Facilitate effective communication
- State expectations clearly. Many professional liability claims are the result of misunderstandings. It is therefore essential to explicitly communicate the appropriate information in order to limit the risk of misconceptions;
- Encourage feedback and follow-ups. Unfortunately, follow-up emails are not always answered. We receive a huge number of emails when teleworking and some of them can quickly get lost among the day’s or week’s emails. It is recommended that follow-up emails avoid the word "follow-up" and use a catchier term. In addition, emails using slightly or moderately positive language have the beneficial effect of getting higher response rates than emails that are neutral in tone. It’s also important to keep in mind that a phone call can be more productive in many cases;
- Define the respective roles of each lawyer in a file: any delegation of responsibilities involves careful supervision and a review of the work done. Depending on the circumstances, we may be liable even if we have delegated a task to someone else.
Manage files efficiently
- Check for potential conflicts of interest upon the arrival of the new lawyer and, where required, establish "Chinese walls" or implement any other necessary measures.
- Check if the new lawyer is insured with the Professional Liability Insurance Fund of the Barreau du Québec;
- Remind them of the importance of professional secrecy and confidentiality. An internal policy can be put into place for this purpose. Even if a lawyer is teleworking from home or the cottage, the fact remains that no discussion of files should take place in areas that do not guarantee confidentiality and professional secrecy. Breach of confidentiality or professional secrecy can give rise to malpractice claims.
In conclusion, by planning the virtual arrival of a new lawyer, you will "kill two birds with one stone", i.e., facilitate the new lawyer’s successful professional integration into the firm and limit professional liability risks.
HBR Editors, “Our Favorite Management Tips of 2021”, Leadership And Managing People, Harvard Business Review, December 30, 2021.
Grace Lordan, Teresa Almeida, Lindsay Kohler, “5 Practices to Make Your Hybrid Workplace Inclusive”, Business Management, Harvard Business Review, August 17, 2021.
Guide de prévention en responsabilité professionnelle, Fonds d’assurance responsabilité professionnelle du Barreau du Québec, Mise à jour – Février 2022.
Guide de prévention en responsabilité professionnelle - Février 2022