SRA Workplace Environment Guidance: Some Practical thoughts for Law Firm Leaders

Aug 29, 2023

On behalf of the Law Society of England and Wales, I recently took part in a panel presentation and discussion webinar on the SRA’s Workplace Environment Guidance, which was updated in May of 2023. This is the guidance which the SRA first issued in 2022, following a thematic review and updated following Code of Conduct rule changes to both the Individual Code and Firm Code of the SRA Standards and Regulations 2019.

The purpose of my contribution was to focus on the importance of leadership and management. Some might say given my role as Chair of the Law Society’s Leadership and Management Committee, that was obvious. I would say, though, that good management is now a regulatory requirement and therefore, those who do not consider the management implications of everything they do, need to think again.

The importance of supervision has never been clearer following this guidance.


All law firms are now by regulation expected to supervise their staff and to look after their colleagues’ wellbeing.  Colleagues is defined in the widest possible sense, and therefore includes contractors, consultants, barristers and experts, who may be instructed by the firm.

Workplace environment has completely transformed, not just in law firms, but in society over the period since March 2020. We all know that the reason was not a sudden moment of enlightenment regarding more flexible working methods, but was driven by a global pandemic. We have the technology though to be more productive than ever before. Productivity does however inevitably rest on the individuals undertaking the work, their supervisors and the wider environment.

Holidays – do you take proper breaks?

At this time of year one particular factor is clear, as out of office emails arrive in my inbox, indicating some people are on ‘annual leave’, some people are ‘away from the office’, and it seems of a fewer are on ‘holiday and not checking emails’ than ever before. It made me think that the SRA Workplace Environment Guidance has failed to address one of the most obvious issues: time away from the office and the work environment.

The term ‘annual leave’ has its etymology in its military usage.

The corporate world is abuzz with American management speak, which often offers little and fails to shine a light on the root causes.

Proper leadership and management by contrast is about identifying an issue and managing that issue, whether that be a positive opportunity for growth or a challenge, such as the team taking sufficient breaks to enjoy the benefit of that break, and to be far more productive.

Granting employees statutory time off is an obligation, dating back nearly a century in England and Wales, through the Holidays with Pay Act 1938. I must flag for non-employment lawyers reading this blog that this legislation is long-since obsolete and has been replaced (before you do a Google search for the Act and think that it is helpful in sweating productivity out of your team!).

I believe that breaks are important. As leaders in law firms, we have an obligation to make sure our team take time off to refresh them and to preserve their productivity and effectiveness by utilising rest.


If you speak to any elite sports person, or read any sports biographies, you will normally find reference to recovery sessions and how they focus as much on the recovery as training itself.

We, as a cerebral profession, need to look after ourselves in similar manner to elite sports people with habits that matter, including time off each day, at weekends, and during the holidays.

In the Rise of the Legal COO second edition, published by Global Law and Business 2023, I wrote a chapter on habits, which includes the following observation:

“One habit of great leaders generally that might seem insignificant at first, is their commitment to being the hardest worker in the room. This does not mean working the longest hours, feeling guilty for switching off, or being physically the most present in the office. It means being the person whose output is reflective of their skills, experience, focus and consistency.”

It is about focusing on output.

The point is not therefore about presenteeism, or about being constantly available or not taking adequate breaks.

Critically question:

  • How effective can you be if you never switch off?
  • How effective can your team be if they do not take proper holidays?

In the seminal management book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which was published in 1989, Stephen R Covey identified the 7th habit as “sharpen the saw. What this means is that everyone should balance and renew their resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable and effective long-term lifestyle.  What we may refer to now as work-life balance.

It was an essential observation in the late 1980s and, 34 years later, it still remains absolutely critical and relevant.

SRA Guidance basic and not comprehensive

Why then, does the SRA Workplace Environment Guidance omit holidays and working hours? I suspect because, like much of the SRA’s guidance, it thinks about the obvious and plays to the lowest common denominator. That is not a criticism of the SRA; it is an observation that when you regulate 180,000 people with practising certificates, the range of base knowledge inevitably is huge. They therefore cover the basics.

What the SRA does not tend to cover in their guidance is the more sophisticated elements, or indeed the more solutions-driven, aspects.

In trying not to be too prescriptive, the SRA is giving firms and law firm leaders the opportunity to identify their own preferred working environment solutions, but that means that the prompts to think about supervision are there, but not how to supervise. The prompts to think about the working environment are addressed, but not the impact of long hours and pressure on productivity. The need to stand back and to look at the habits that exist within your teams is something that is too nuanced and too sophisticated for generalist guidance.

Why are we blogging about this?

Most of the firms that Bennett Briegal LLP deal with want to be great places to work. They value their teams, they know that solicitors are able to choose from a wide range of employers, and they want to be an employer of choice. We regularly provide training on supervision and leadership; we provide training on risk management and we provide training on creating the right habits and working environment for your team. So yes, we have solutions to sell.

More relevant though, Mark did an MBA some years ago, I qualified as a Chartered Manager and we both worked outside of law in leadership roles. We know the importance of good management; we know how it can impact on happiness, health, productivity and, dare we say it, profitability.

If you want to become more profitable, you have to start with the right working environment and the right habits embedded across your teams, including taking time away from the office, so that you are more productive when working (whether that be working entirely remotely from home, working in the office, or some hybrid solution, following the pandemic). It is not the physical environment that matters, it is the cultural environment that is critical.

If you are planning to try and improve your supervision leadership or your working environment, we can help by providing training to your management team, or your whole firm. If you are planning a partners’ retreat, we can come and outline ideas on how to improve profitability, utilising effective leadership and management and supervision tools and habits. We are legal advisors, but we also advise on how to create somewhere that is great to work – and profitable.

If you would like to discuss this blog, get in touch or via the website.


SRA Workplace Environment Guidance