Guidance to members concerning management issues that may arise as a consequence of COVID-19
Queensland Law Society recommends to our members that they give consideration to the following issues as they respond to the current, uncertain COVID-19 pandemic.
- We recommend that you take appropriate measures to protect your staff and people attending your offices, and that if you are a principal in your of law practice, you refer to the useful guidance on infection control measures that have been published by the Australian Government Department of Health and Queensland Health in relation to the interaction between your staff and members of the public. Your plan should identify the risks and outline what is reasonably practical to minimise those risks to your staff and clients.
- You should ensure that your clients’ interests are protected. The issues that may arise for a practice will vary from firm to firm and will depend to a large extent upon the type of work that you undertake, the client base that you have, the time limits that may attach to the work that you are doing and the interaction that you may have with the various courts and tribunals. These factors will influence any decision to operate your firm remotely and whether your physical office needs to remain open. If your office is to close temporarily, you must inform your clients and advise them how to communicate with staff.
We also remind you that there is a general obligation to supervise the work being performed by your staff, even when they are working remotely.
The level of the supervision that will be required will vary depending on the experience, qualifications, type and complexity of the work being undertaken by the supervised person.
Matters to be addressed for remote supervision include:
- you should provide for daily contact between the supervisor and the supervised person
- the supervisor must be aware of the work being undertaken
- the supervisor needs to have direction or oversight as to the tasks to be undertaken with respect to the matters that are being attended to by the supervised person for a client
- the supervisor should ensure that they can provide reasonable guidance to the supervised person
- the supervisor should be in a position to satisfy themselves that correspondence and advice is well founded, endorsed, and capable being signed off.
- It is important for you to continue to deliver your services as promptly and diligently as reasonably possible in the circumstances. This means that your obligation of competence requires you to be aware of time frames and limitations which may exist in a client matter and are required to be fulfilled to protect the clients’ interests.
You should ensure that your client base is able to be contacted via telephone or other communications methods so that instructions can be taken and advices provided. This may mean that you need more than one avenue of communication with your client
QLS reminds practitioners to take extra precautions regarding cyber safety. Cyber-criminals often exploit disruption and breaks in routine. Take extra care before transferring funds. Confirm transfer details by telephone (do not rely on missed calls and messages) and be aware that there are extra risks with remote work.
Trust Account Receipts and EFT Payments from Trust
We understand that COVID-19 has impacted how many law practices conduct their practice and given rise to issues surrounding the management of their trust account.
Receipt of trust money
Where possible, encourage clients to provide trust funds via direct deposit or electronic funds transfer (EFT) to your trust account.
If trust funds are received in the form of cash or cheques there is still a requirement to bank these funds to the trust account as soon as practicable (s.248(1) of the Legal Profession Act 2007); which the Society takes to mean the same or next business day. To minimise contact with banking staff law practices may utilise the bank’s ATMs to deposit funds to their trust account, as long as they maintain deposit slips that comply with s. 35 of the Legal Profession Regulation 2017.
Payment from the trust account via EFT
Law practices may seek approval from the Society to make payments from the trust account via EFT. The law practice must read through and agree to adhere to the EFT Guidelines for trust account operations.
A sample application letter can be located in Appendix A of the EFT Guidelines. Applications should be submitted to email@example.com. You will need to speak with your financial institution prior to applying for approval to ensure that the extra security requirements can be adhered.
Once you receive approval, EFT payments from trust can be processed. However there are some payments, for example the purchase of bank cheques, which will still necessitate a trust cheque to be issued.
We also remind law practices to ensure that they are aware of the cyber security alerts issued by the Society and Lexon.
Any enquiries regarding the management of your trust account can be directed to our Trust Account Investigations team on 07 3842 5908.