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Regulatory expectations in creating positive workplace culture for law firms

By Dr. Joanne Cracknell | July 5, 2024

Changes introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority last year means new rules and guidance for law firms and their workplace culture. Our Professional Indemnity Insurance team investigates.
Financial, Executive and Professional Risks (FINEX)

In Spring 2023 the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) introduced new rules and fresh guidance [1] to help law firms maintain a positive workplace culture in response to complaints it received that some law firms have an unsupportive, bullying, or toxic working environment.

The changes to the rules followed the SRA’s thematic review which took place during late 2021 exploring workplace culture within law firms (Thematic Review). The report published in February 2022 highlighted concerns around long working hours, client pressures and capacity, targets and worries regarding the reporting of mental health issues and instances of bullying. [2]

One year on since the new changes around wellbeing and mental health, this article explores the topic of workplace culture and what measures law firms should have in place to create and maintain a positive workplace culture.

What do the rules say?

Paragraph 1.5 of the SRA Code of Conduct for Solicitors, Registered European Lawyers and Registered Foreign Lawyers provides that individuals must treat colleagues fairly, respectfully and they also must not bully or harass colleagues or discriminate unfairly against them. [3] Furthermore, managers (such as partners and directors) must challenge any such behaviour that does not meet those standards.

The rules also apply to law firms and paragraph 1.6 of the Code of Conduct for Firms [4], provides that law firms (its partners or directors and those responsible for compliance) must treat their employees fairly and with respect. They must not bully or harass them or discriminate unfairly against them. Law firms have a duty to ensure that their employees also meet the same standards.

What does treating colleagues fairly mean?

The SRA does not expect those it regulates to create or sustain working environments which risk:

  • mistakes being made
  • clients receiving poor outcomes
  • serious ethical concerns being raised

Law firms must maintain public confidence in the integrity of the profession and in the legal workplace as a safe and inclusive environment.

The term ‘colleague’ in respect of the new rules not only refers to formal employees of the law firm in which a solicitor works but also includes individuals who may be instructed by the firm such as barristers, experts and consultants.

Since the pandemic changes to working practices have allowed flexibility so the place of work is no longer confined to the traditional physical office but also the virtual workplace.  Conduct at workplace events may also be caught by the rules if it “touches realistically upon the practice of the profession, in a way that is demonstrably relevant”.

The SRA’s expectations

A year on and the SRA’s Regulatory Management Team are engaging with a number of firms exploring what they have done or propose to do to create a positive workplace culture. As part of this engagement exercise it is likely that the SRA will expect to see a little more than a written policy and the provision of some training, despite stating that they will not prescribe what working practices or procedures they expect law firms and employees to adopt.

It is important that law firms recognise the importance of taking steps towards creating or maintaining a positive workplace culture, as the SRA will take action against those who they believe have breached their regulatory obligations. At the very least firms should have effective systems and controls in place which:

  • Sets out core values and expected behaviours: this should not simply consist of a list of words but are values and behaviours that are clearly defined and lived by everyone including a commitment from senior management that they will model their behaviour to support such values.
  • Deals with supervision: supervision should not only involve checking the quality and accuracy of an individual’s work but also look at their workload and targets, offering an opportunity to safely discuss concerns which may affect an individual’s wellbeing and competence. Poor performance by an individual could be a warning sign that an individual may not be coping and therefore needs support.
  • Provides a safe space to raise concerns: it is important that individuals can raise concerns without recourse and can do so feeling fully supported, knowing that their concerns will be addressed promptly and constructively.
  • Treats people with dignity and respect: having such values and behaviours embedded within the organisation creates an ethical workplace. People are happier and more productive and provides a better client experience and that in turn can increase instructions.
  • Updates existing policies, controls, and procedures to deal with the new requirements: review and if necessary, revise existing measures that deal with bullying, harassment, discrimination, and victimisation so that they deal with the changes required by the SRA around inclusivity, mental health, and wellbeing.
  • Explains the firm’s approach to inappropriate behaviour: it is important that firms can explain how they deal with issues around inappropriate behaviour, how is it reported, investigated, challenged and recorded.
  • Evidence of awareness and training: details of the types of training offered to ensure a culture of awareness of bullying, harassment, discrimination and victimisation, and health and wellbeing, the frequency of the training and to whom it is provided. This should also include training provided to those responsible for investigating inappropriate behaviour.

The importance of a positive workplace culture

Creating and maintaining a positive workplace culture is key to the success of any organisation. People who work in such businesses tend to flourish and be happier, healthier, and more productive.

Law firms that invest in creating and maintaining a positive workplace culture and prioritising employee wellbeing will benefit as people and clients will be less likely to leave if they are happy. It also helps attract new talent and clients to the firm.

In addition, firms may see a reduction in complaints as client relationships are strengthened, and claims may also reduce as less mistakes are being made, or if something does go wrong employees feel more comfortable to raise concerns and admit any mistakes. With the biggest professional indemnity insurance renewal period fast approaching, it will make the process easier as insurers are increasingly asking questions of their insureds about how they deal with supervision and maintain a positive workplace culture.

Contact WTW today

Given the mandatory nature of Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII) for legal services firms, understanding how to secure optimal coverage is essential. Our dedicated team can guide your firm in choosing suitable PII coverage and offer robust risk management support.


  1. Solicitors Regulation Authority. (2023). Workplace environment: risks of failing to protect and support colleagues. Return to article
  2. Solicitors Regulation Authority. (2022). Workplace Culture Thematic Review. Return to article
  3. SRA Code of Conduct for Solicitors, RELs and RFLs Return to article
  4. SRA Code of Conduct for Firms Return to article

Director - PI FINEX Legal Services


Head of Legal Services - PI FINEX

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