This will not be a hot take on the coronavirus. This will not be a detailed insight into how the working practices we have seen change overnight will lead to a permanent readjustment of the legal profession as we know it. The time for reflection is not now: this crisis is just getting started, and we’re still feeling our way into how exactly we’re going to make the coming months work.
What we can do is reflect on how impressively so many firms have adapted their business model and handling of work almost overnight. I asked last week for reports from firms of how they have coped with the tumult caused by this virus. The response was staggering. For all the lazy assumptions about this being a profession stuck in a bygone time and with no inclination to modernise, many firms have shown remarkable resilience and deftness to keep the show on the road.
From Whatsapp groups to the embrace of technology such as Zoom or Microsoft Team, lawyers have stayed in constant contact and been able to share good practice and tips for dealing with the current challenges. Those firms that had long ago committed to remote working and going paperless have found themselves ahead of the game. Investment while the sun was shining has proved invaluable once dark clouds started to appear overhead. Settlements have been negotiated remotely and business conducted as usual by people away from the office.
What has been most laudable has been the efforts of so many to retain a semblance of normality in such bizarre circumstances. Reports of Skype drinks parties for staff on Friday evening were commonplace, while many lawyers reported to me that bosses’ first thoughts were for the mental health of staff, rather than the work they could feasibly produce.
Not every response was complementary. Solicitors told wearily of being forced to come in against their will, and in one case of a firm’s boss saying outright to ignore government advice to stay home. One hopes these initial measures will ease once the scale of what we’re facing becomes clear. There were also reports that partners were compelling associates to come into work while they stayed at home. It would be foolhardy at this stage to alienate those workers who will be so vital in difficult times over the next few weeks and months.
Enthusiasm will inevitably wane for new ways of working and the prospect of home schooling children will place a massive burden on parents juggling work commitments. We are going to need to pace ourselves for what could be a long slog. The prospect of not seeing cherished colleagues will soon begin to take its toil, and the novelty will fade.
But for now, most firms seem to have got off to a good start. In such an uncertain period and with so many anxious about what is to come, we should take positives where we can find them.