How the legal profession is coping with Covid-19
Peter Taylor, Paris Smith LLP, Southampton
'In my 35 years of being a lawyer I have never known anything like this before.
For me the virus has a much deeper threat than for most. I am in the extremely vulnerable category for coronavirus, having undergone a kidney transplant 16 years ago. For the next 12 weeks I need to be shielded and at home away from family and friends. My boundaries are to be the house and garden. Making the decision to self isolate was an emotional moment and my family decided to restrict even contact between family members and myself. I feel extremely fortunate to have technology to maintain isolated contact. I am lucky to have my wife and younger daughter both committed to self-isolation.
The working week started with me delivering a message to the 250 members of the firm to ensure that they still felt part of team Paris Smith despite working remotely. I started my message:
"We are now starting a week in which Paris Smith is working from more locations than ever before in its history. Wherever you are sitting or standing reading this email is one of those many locations. Whilst we are physically separated, we are still very much connected as one. Technology plays its huge part in that - phones, laptops and tablets; apps, telephone conferencing and video messaging as well. Equally important and indeed more so, we must remember that we all share the Paris Smith bond with its own sense of purpose, vision and values. These have stood us in good stead for over 200 years and will continue to do so."
I have been mindful throughout the week that communication internally and externally is so important at times such as this. For the staff in the firm it is essential to avoid any vacuums of communication when the chimp in the brain can run amuck. I am committed to the wellbeing, both physical and mental of the staff and to ensure that they do not feel alone. After the prime minister’s announcement of a lock down on the evening of 24 March, I immediately emailed the firm to inform them that I was calling a meeting of our Cobra committee to discuss the implications of that for the firm. We decided that clarity was needed on the ‘absolute necessity’ of travel to work so we planned our action for the following day and communicated that to the firm that night as I promised the firm to do. The following day the picture became clearer and we agreed our longer term arrangements as to how to minimise the need for any members of the firm to visit the office and fulfil our duty to follow the government’s instructions.
The week has seen collaboration between regional managing partners of firms in the area. We held a conference call on a Chatham House Rule basis to share our experiences and support each other. Extremely valuable and inspiring that competitors could talk so openly and feel safe to show some vulnerability amongst peers.
We have been active in communicating and offering advice and guidance through a number of channels including a specific coronavirus page on our website, social media platforms, as well as working with the media with the support of our PR professionals, as well as arranging free to view webinars for business leaders in the region. We are actively listening to what challenges people and businesses have so that we can tailor our content to address those needs.
I have ended the week with a personal video to the firm with a summary of what I have been up to and a vote of thanks for their support and commitment to our cause. Throughout the week two sayings have echoed in my head ‘You can only change what you can change’ and ‘If there is a storm coming you can either run for a cave or start to build a windmill’. I subscribe to the windmill approach.'
Elizabeth O'Mahony, Blake Morgan, London
'I work part time to enable me to take care of my two children, an 11-year-old and a 4-year-old. My husband works from home as standard and regularly has to travel (not at present!) so I am often juggling work and home life on my own anyway.
To be honest the 11-year-old is pretty self sufficient and just needs the odd poke to make sure homework is being done and the hideousness of YouTube is off. But the 4-year-old is, well, a 4-year-old so needs help with most things, plus she has cerebral palsy which makes those most things a little trickier. The upshot is, however, that I am used to constantly juggling work commitments and children's needs and demands and all that comes with that. The current situation simply moves this to defcon 1 and in reality, as we are all based at home and I am not rushing to get replacement trains or one kid from after school club after having got the second an hour earlier…I feel a little calmer!
My husband has the office and I have set up in our dining room with the children.
The eldest seemingly finishes her downloaded daily school tasks in two hours. I am therefore setting harder work for her to do to fill the day. She is also helping out with little sister by doing phonics and art.
I am pretty much going rogue from the tasks set by 4yo reception teacher and instead following themes of numeracy, phonics and research. I can set about 20 minute chunks for her to do before I am interrupted and it is a challenge! However, I have learned to be really rather relaxed about it and unlike many am not regimented with a timetable because I think it sets you up to fail. I don’t know what urgents are going to crop up during my day and need attention, so if we miss 0930-11 on one more one less, I won't lose my mind! We catch up with everything on Thursday and Friday when I am off. How much can a 4yo need to do really?!
However, I do plan my working day and have tasks that I definitely need to complete so I know I am hitting my hours and moving things on as they should. If I need to work past my finishing time, log on in the evening or cover some issues on my days off, I am fine with that and is no different from my usual working to be honest.
I am enjoying not having to get up at the crack of sparrow, rushing breakfast and yelling at them to get their shoes on whilst I dash for the train. Then panicking on the way home because the Thameslink has gone kaput again and I will be late for pick up. Then cramming piano lessons, gym, dance, drama and homework before dinner and the usual bedtime strop (them not me, although…) it's rather liberating!
I am also aware this is for a finite period – we cannot as a society follow this path forever. So instead of despairing I am embracing and enjoying the time together – they'll be flying the roost quicker than a blink and I will no doubt lament this strange time we had together.'
Nick Fluck, Stapleton & Son, Lincolnshire
'My firm, Stapleton & Son in Stamford, in common with a lot of small high street firms, is just focusing on keeping afloat, so we’ll be here to help our clients when the pandemic has blown over a little. Emergency measures, furloughs and working from home all form part of the current picture.
It is a curious thing however, in these troubled times, that I have a quondam connection with Corona – in this case the 'MS Corona', a 1200 ton composite ship from Dundee. My great great grandmother was born aboard and hence named Corona Amelia Bate. Family legend has it that her mother was the wife of the captain, it not being common for women to be found at sea in those days, but my sister’s recent researches, having failed to find a Captain Henry Bate, are now homing in on the possibility that she may have been the offspring of a convict family in course of deportation.'
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.