How the legal profession is coping with Covid-19
Sue James, Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre
‘Remote working reminds me of being a teenager - chatting all day in my bedroom and playing on my computer. The move from office to home has been relatively straightforward and the law centre team now meet on Teams daily at 11am. We are carrying on with case work and our receptionist is having all calls redirected to her at home. It helps to be a part of the Law Centre Network who have been a huge source of information and support. Having two grown boys in the house, and restrictions on going out, could be challenging - but I’ve invested in an outdoor table tennis table and I might just start to enforce play time.’
Andrew Newbury, Hall Brown, Manchester
‘At Hall Brown Family Law we have always had a WhatsApp group for everyone called the HB Massive. It’s usually jokes (some inspired, some terrible), but also support, advice, tips and help. As we’re all now working remotely, it’s used more than ever. I guess it’s the modern water cooler. Every morning one of the senior partners circulates a quote about a staff member taken from a recent appraisal and plays the game, “Guess My Amazing Colleague”. The prize being the chance to work at home and dress down.
‘Being a firm which has been using cloud-based IT for some time, adapting to working from home has not been a difficult transition. All staff have been given laptops, we’re linked via Zoom if needed and clients are serviced seamlessly. The principal challenge is how the Family Court will be able to adapt. Guidance was promptly given by Mostyn J, the President and local lead judges. What I anticipate we will be seeing is an increased use of alternative forums for settlement (such as Private FDRs) if the court struggles to accommodate remote hearings.’
Jodie Hill, Thrive Law, Leeds
‘We are very busy due to the free newsletter and daily blogs we send out daily and our free employment law advice line to help vulnerable and people and businesses in this crisis, which has meant it’s all hands on deck. We have innovated with tech, co- creating a coronavirus advice tool. We have also created a mental health training platform which is a one hour course so that all staff can become mental health champions from home, we will be soon rolling this out to our clients too! We communicate daily through video calls and ensure we all check in with one another regularly. I am really proud of how we have adapted and risen to the challenge. I make sure I do an hour walk a day with my dog and encourage my team to go outside each day, to use the extra time for wellbeing and to keep a journal.’
David Pickup, Pickup & Scott, Aylesbury, Bucks
‘We are a two partner firm specialising in legal aid work such as crime mental health immigration and prison law. Most hearings have been postponed or changed to telephone calls. We are used to seeing clients, many of whom are vulnerable, face to face and it is challenging dealing with work by telephone.
‘Psychiatric hospital wards are closed and some mental health clients are frustrated at delays because it is difficult to arrange aftercare. People still want immigration advice and clients want to know what is going on. Prisoners are concerned that they are vulnerable to illness and some want details about possible plans for early release. Criminal trials have all but ceased leaving many people in limbo. We have been asked to prioritise offenders who would have served their sentence on remand.
‘The office is closed and we have made arrangements to divert telephone calls and publicise fee earners’ mobile numbers so clients can contact us. There is a great deal of uncertainty about how it will affect us and how long it will ask. Staff have been outstanding in learning new ways of working to ensure we can advise our clients.’
Joanne Edwards, Forsters, London
‘My working life has changed overnight. The 7am daily commute gone, I get up early to try to deal with the issues which arise from running a department remotely. In my practice, issues between separated parents arising from the government’s stay at home guidance have taken up the majority of my time, as well as needing to withdraw or rewrite financial offers and financial disclosure. Most of my time has been spent either on the phone or on Zoom to Counsel and clients, who have wanted quick, practical advice amidst rapidly shifting sands. I set up a Zoom account only days ago and now it is a vital part of my practice.’
Mark Goodrich, White & Case, London
‘The lockdown has moved so fast. White & Case was ahead of the government in encouraging home working, informed by our experience in Asia and Italy so I have been at home for the best part of two weeks now. My wife has asthma so she started working from home even earlier. Since her work is more critical and sensitive than mine (responsible for getting Brits stranded abroad back home), she rightly grabbed the upstairs office whereas I have been an itinerant worker, rotating between the kitchen, family room and bedroom depending on whether the priority is comfortable typing or quiet for calls.
‘This week, our kids (11 and 13) have been added into the mix such that there was a moment yesterday when our home internet was struggling under the weight of 4 audio / video calls at the same time!
‘From a personal perspective, the experience has been positive, even enjoyable. I worked a fair bit from home anyway so am reasonably well set-up and am enjoying the chance to spend more time with my children. White & Case is a global firm and my work is very international so I work all the time with people I don’t see face to face so it isn’t a huge leap to do that additionally with my London colleagues! It’s a time for many in the legal profession to realise how much more fortunate we are compared with those for whom the crisis has destroyed their livelihood.’
Nicholas Dobson, local government law specialist, Doncaster
‘Difficult commute this morning. Fell over the dogs in the kitchen en route to my desk. But eventually arrived safely! Really, in the digital age, conceptual work like law works well remotely. So, provided there’s reasonable internet speed, good access to online resources and client and colleague interface, the world should keep turning. For many and up to a point. But what’s of course missing is the extra dimension of face to face communication. The crucial nuances, subliminal cues and emotional tone missed or diminished by email, telecon and video contact. For at its best, a physical meeting can create its own valuable dynamic. At its worst, of course, it can descend into dominant-led groupthink.
‘In prelapsarian days (before COVID19) I had always thought initial meetings with clients and others needed to be face-to-face, to establish essential human contact. After that virtual contact would work in many cases.
‘So national lawyer grounding will be fine for a time. But ultimately home practitioners are likely to become somewhat stale, dispirited and even depressed. And the absent dynamic of real client and colleague contact may well weaken essential bonds. So let’s all hope for a quick and extensive roll-out of effective COVID testing to bring a speedy end to national house-arrest.’
Eduardo Reyes, Law Society Gazette, Peckham, London
'The Gazette tested our ability to work without a central office after ours was destroyed in the Law Society fire, so we knew we could do it. So long as WiFi works, the technical side is fine. The big difference has been having the schools shut, and having to think about household supplies. My eldest daughter has her A levels next year, and is keeping going with those independent study skills, but our youngest is severely disabled, and can’t just be left to it.
So my wife and I have a routine, making sure there’s time for work and occupying our youngest. She loves the piano, so I’ll take about 40 mins a day out to play that with her beside me. As Gazette columnist Mother In Law noted, TV plays a role.
Work contacts and colleagues have been great – affirming and caring as well as professional. I suppose the real downside is that I’m limited in making new contacts, but for now things are holding up fine – just got our second edition of the magazine to the printers with no-one working in a central office.'
What are you doing to keep professional and home life going? The Gazette would like to hear from you and share your experience with fellow professionals
*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.