The modern working world is more virtual than ever and whatever and whenever the return to offices might be, it seems that the landscape has been permanently changed. The recent English case of Boxwood Leisure v Gleeson Construction Services  highlights some risk management issues which all professionals should bear in mind when supervising and training colleagues.
In this case, a trainee solicitor was instructed to raise court proceedings. Although they sent a number of court documents to the defendant solicitors, they failed to include the necessary claim form. The error was noticed and the claim form was then served 4 days late. The defendants successfully argued that as the claim form was not submitted in time, there could be no claim.
The client whose claim was lost may well now look to pursue compensation from their solicitors for failing to preserve their right to pursue litigation.
Key points arising
The difficulties of remote working were relied upon in mitigation for the error, and it was suggested that this error would not have occurred during 'normal' working times when dates would have been "properly diarised, or someone would have noticed during the course of our day-to-day engagement, interaction and meetings which have been absent for so long".
The court acknowledged the impact of COVID-19 on the supervision of junior colleagues and that it "could allow mistakes to slip through the net"; but held that this did not reduce the duties incumbent on solicitors.
What can professionals learn from this?
Although the case was heard in England, it is likely a similar approach would be taken in Scotland in relation to questions of professional negligence across all sectors. The court was not sympathetic to disruption caused to the 'regular' working environment by COVID-19.
A key lesson for all professional services firms is that they must adopt and follow robust systems for diarising dates and supervision of colleagues, fit for the modern working world. The checks which were in place in the physical office must be updated and properly adapted to the virtual working environment.
The case also highlights the importance of providing support for junior professionals who may, in some workplaces, be missing out on in person checks and training as well as the opportunities to receive "training by osmosis" by simply observing more experienced colleagues at work. Additional training and more effective systems of supervision may need to be put in place.
Such steps can help to prevent potentially serious and expensive claims against professional service firms.
While most professionals will likely return to a more 'normal' working environment, it is inevitable that remote working will remain part of the picture for many. Devising and adopting efficient and adaptable systems of training and supervision are vital, both for junior colleagues' development and for the avoidance of claims.
Those steps will soon become second nature and the risk of claims can only be reduced.