Guidelines for supervisors - Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner

Guidelines for supervisors

These Guidelines provide guidance on how supervision may look in practice, and set out practical approaches supervisors can implement.  These guidelines are not prescriptive.

Law practices should develop clear policies and procedures around supervision, taking into account the matters set out below.

Supervised Legal Practice Policy

The Uniform Law does not define ‘supervision’, however when considering the issue of supervision the Board will consider an appropriate supervisor will:

  • be appropriately experienced;
  • not be subject to supervised legal practice restrictions;
  • provide regular support and feedback sessions; and
  • have authority in respect of work performed by the supervised practitioner and be able to direct, amend, override or intervene in relation to the legal work performed.

Supervision involves monitoring the legal work of the supervised legal practitioner (‘the supervisee’).  The focus during the supervised legal practice period is on teaching new legal skills and guiding the supervisee.  The role of the supervisor also involves training on the broader skills required in legal practice, such as time management, interpersonal skills and the ability to prioritise, all of which are vital for junior legal practitioners.

The Board’s Supervised Legal Practice Policy (159KB PDF) is available for download.

What good supervision looks like

Supervision will, naturally, be more focussed at the beginning of the supervised legal practice period.  As the supervisee acquires more experience, and begins to undertake more complex legal work, the level of supervision required will change.

It is expected that a supervisor will:

(i) have daily contact with the supervisee;
(ii) assign work to the supervisee that is within the capabilities of the supervisee;
(iii) actively manage the supervisee’s workflow;
(iv) be aware of all work being undertaken by the supervisee;
(v) be aware of instructions the supervisee might receive directly from clients;
(vi) conduct regular and structured one-on-one meetings with the supervisee;
(vii) review all correspondence and advice prepared by the supervisee, to ensure it is accurate;
(viii) be available to discuss issues with the supervisee as they arise (‘open door policy’);
(ix) tailor the style of supervision to the supervisee;
(x) allow the supervisee to approach them with mistakes; and
(xi) consider whether they require training/feedback on how to supervise.

The following provides specific guidance for supervisors on what constitutes good supervision.

(i)  Daily contact

 You should have daily contact with the supervisee either in person, on the telephone or via email.  This contact can be to provide specific feedback, discuss the progress of files or simply ‘touch base’.

(ii)   Work allocated to a supervisee should be tailored

It is important that you understand the capabilities of the supervisee.  You should allocate legal work to the supervisee that they can, with oversight and guidance, handle.

(iii)   Actively manage the supervisee’s workflow

You should regularly consider whether the workload of the supervisee is reasonable.  The supervisee should be able to complete the work allocated to them and meet deadlines within the time available.

You should also have a system in place to monitor important deadlines.

(iv)   Work undertaken by supervisee

You should be aware of all matters the supervisee is handling, the general progress of these matters and the overall strategy.  You should ensure the supervisee has access to necessary precedents and checklists and has been trained how to use same.

(v)   New instructions

You should have a process in place to monitor new instructions received by the supervisee in ongoing matters or from existing clients for new matters.  By doing so you can ensure the overall file strategy is ‘on track’ and that work is being appropriately allocated.

(vi)   One-on-one meetings as part of supervision

Such meetings are critical and the following approach is recommended:

  • Initially, one-on-one meetings should be held in person at least weekly (the frequency of these meetings may later vary – fortnightly or monthly – depending on the practice area and the experience of the supervisee);
  • These meetings are important and should be treated as such, allow adequate time. Interruptions should be minimised and these meetings should not be cancelled unless it is unavoidable;
  • The focus of these meetings should be targeted;
  • You should attend these meetings with a list of all current matters the supervisee has the conduct of;
  • Initially, you should review the entire file. As the supervisee becomes more experienced a quick file review might be all that is necessary; and
  • The supervisee should be given an opportunity to raise any issues they are having, either with their legal work or more generally.

(vii)   Review all work undertaken

You must review all legal work undertaken by the supervisee.  There should be a standard process for doing so which enables you to amend, override or intervene as required.  Feedback should be provided to the supervisee as part of this review.  Specific, timely feedback is a critical component of good supervision and should be constructive and targeted to the supervisee.

(viii)   Open door policy as part of supervision

You should ensure you are available to the supervisee for a certain number of hours each week.  Many supervisors implement an open door policy whereby the supervisee is proactive and seeks assistance from their supervisor when required.  This form of supervision forms an important part of the overall supervision arrangement.

(ix)   Tailor the style of supervision to the supervisee

The style of supervision and feedback should be underpinned by consistent processes within your law practice but flexible enough to be tailored towards the supervisee.  You should make efforts to understand what style of supervision will suit the supervisee and supervise accordingly.  Doing so minimises risk to the law practice, ensures the supervision is effective and that the supervisee receives solid training.

You play a vital role in contributing to the supervisee’s psychological wellbeing.  The Board encourages supervisors and law practices to acknowledge this role and consider implementing the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation’s Workplace Wellbeing: Best Practice Guidelines for the Legal Profession (2.26MB PDF).

(x)   Encourage a practice culture and relationship where a mistake can be admitted to

A practice culture where the supervisee feels they can admit to a mistake is vital.  You should work to build a relationship where the supervisee can bring issues, including mistakes, to your attention.  The importance of your relationship with the supervisee cannot be overstated.

Mistakes should be treated as a learning opportunity.  In addition to fixing the mistake or directing the supervisee to do so you should also consider any systemic issues that may have contributed to the mistake.  Are checklists up to date?  Are firm policies readily available to the supervisee?  Has the supervisee been shown how to use precedent documents effectively?

(xi)   You may consider receiving training

The skills required for effective supervision are not part of legal training and are quite a different skill set.  It takes time and effort to develop the skills to become a good supervisor.

You are encouraged to seek feedback from colleagues and consider whether some structured training around supervision may be beneficial.

Remote supervision

In cases where the supervisee proposes to be supervised by a legal practitioner who is not employed in the same law practice or is based in a different location this is a ‘remote supervision arrangement’.  In these cases the supervisee should seek the Board’s approval of the remote supervision arrangement.

These guidelines also apply to remote supervision arrangements.

Supervision of any type should be a combination of structured and unstructured approaches, (one-on-one meetings plus such a relationship that the supervisee can bring issues, including mistakes, to the attention of their supervisor).

Issues which must be carefully considered as part of a remote supervision arrangement include:

  • The logistics of contact, how regular one-on-one meetings will be conducted and how the supervisor can be contacted by the supervisee at other times;
  • How the supervisor will manage the supervisee’s workflow if they are not employed in the same law practice or are based in a different location;
  • How correspondence and advice will be reviewed and feedback provided to the supervisee; and
  • How the supervisor will access files and documents necessary for the supervisor to review all legal work performed by the supervisee. Issues of client confidentiality must also be carefully considered.

 Application to the Board for approval of a remote supervision arrangement

To assess the remote supervision arrangement, the Board requires a written proposal from the employer, supervisor and supervisee setting out the supervision that will be provided.  The proposal should confirm the supervisor will have authority in respect of all legal work performed and be able to direct, amend, override or intervene in relation to the legal work performed.

The employer, supervisor and supervisee may choose to formalise the arrangement in a Deed of Agreement or similar.

The Board will consider whether the remote supervision arrangement is adequate in all the circumstances, based on the considerations set out at paragraph 3.13 of the Board’s Supervised Legal Practice Policy (159KB PDF).

Other resources

Last modified October 16, 2017.