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Whether it’s inflatable Santas on candy cane speckled lawns, or the re-emergence of fruit mince pies and Christmas pudding on supermarket shelves, there are signs all around that the festive season is well and truly upon us.

As practitioners across NSW count down the days to a much-needed break and respite from legal practice, now is the time for principal solicitors to take steps to ready themselves and their practices for the holiday shutdown.

Principal solicitors who intend to close their offices or run their offices on reduced staff over the holiday period need to make sure that, despite taking a brief break from legal practice, they continue to discharge their obligations under the Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW) (Uniform Law) and associated Rules. To assist with this, the Law Society’s Professional Support Unit has put together a holiday season practice management checklist:

  1. Communicate in advance when you will be out of office.

If you intend to close your office for a period of time, let your clients know the dates you will close and re-open your office. Having this information on your letterhead and email signature is helpful.

If you won’t be available or contactable, make sure your clients and staff know who to contact for assistance or escalation of issues.

Make sure you have scheduled an ‘Out of Office’ automatic reply and remind all staff to do the same before they go on leave.

  1. Plan for upcoming critical dates and deadlines.

Plan in advance for critical dates and deadlines coming up in the new year. This should include time-limits, court filing dates, property settlements or contractual deadlines. You may lose a few weeks to progress these tasks, so make sure that the solicitors you supervise account for this when planning and managing their workloads.

Ensure that all upcoming critical dates and deadlines are diarised.

  1. Plan for appropriate supervision of staff.

If legal services are to be provided in your absence, ensure all law practice staff (whether legally qualified or not) are appropriately supervised.

It is recommended that principal solicitors plan this with their staff, well in advance, to ensure everyone has an opportunity to plan, negotiate and settle on when they take their leave.

Consider the solicitors you supervise and their practising certificate conditions. Remember that solicitors who hold practising certificates subject to Condition 2 (Supervised Legal Practice) can only engage in legal practice under the supervision of another solicitor who is authorised by their practising certificate to supervise others.[1]

  1. Ensure appropriate authorisations are in place for your trust account.

If you anticipate that there will be activity on your law practice trust account, make sure you have appropriate authorisations in place for dealing with trust monies.

If a principal solicitor is not available to direct or authorise payment from a trust account, the requirements under Rule 43(2) of the Legal Profession Uniform General Rules 2015 must be followed.

  1. Update your clients before you go on leave.

Remember to update your clients on the progress of their matters before you go on leave.  If work on a client’s matter needs to be done over the shutdown period, let the client know who will undertake this work and how you will oversee the work. Further, let them know who to contact should they need any assistance in your absence. Conversely, make sure your staff have instructions and understand the tasks they need to undertake during this period.

  1. Maintain the security of your IT systems.

Whether or not you are in office, your IT systems are susceptible to cybersecurity risks. Make sure your usual cybersecurity risk management systems and processes are in place and that you have a contingency plan for responding to an emergency. Speak to your practice’s IT consultant, so that you know how to access their crisis assistance during the holiday period.

If staff are planning to work remotely during the holiday period, ensure that they access their devices (and information held by the law practice) safely and in accordance with the practice’s policies and procedures.The Law Society and Lawcover’s Cyber Risk Management Checklist may assist you to manage cybersecurity threats.

  1. Rest and recharge.

Once you have taken steps to safeguard your practice against risks that may arise over the holiday period, be sure to rest and recharge your energy levels. The end of year rush towards the last week of December – whether it is managing work deadlines or personal commitments – can be exhausting. It’s important to take time to have a proper break to look after your physical and mental health.

Practitioners are encouraged to refer to the Law Society’s Mental Health and Wellbeing resources if they need support and guidance on managing their mental health.

The Law Society’s Solicitor Outreach Service (SOS) is a confidential counselling service for NSW solicitors, which offers 24/7 telephone crisis counselling with a psychologist. SOS will be available during the holiday period and can be accessed by calling 1800 592 296.

Further regulatory guidance and support

Practitioners who need further guidance or support regarding legal practice management compliance under the Uniform Law can reach out to the Law Society’s Professional Support Unit (PSU) for assistance.

PSU’s Regulatory Compliance line provides guidance to solicitors on compliance issues related to the provision of legal services under the Uniform Law. Common questions handled by Regulatory Compliance include those regarding practicing certificates, practice management and practice structures permitted by the Uniform Law, such as incorporated legal practices.

Costs: [email protected] or (02) 9926 0116

Ethics: [email protected] or (02) 9926 0114

Trusts: [email protected] or (02) 9926 0337

Regulatory compliance: [email protected] or (02) 9926 0115

[1] Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW) s49.