The billable hours system is under strain as solicitors continue to work from home, firms have been told, with partners retaining work that would usually be passed onto juniors.

Speaking at an International Bar Association webinar, legal consultant Moray McLaren said the billable hour ‘is under more stress than normal at the moment’ in the wake of coronavirus, warning partners to treat their junior lawyers flexibly or risk losing them once the crisis has passed.

‘Treat junior lawyers as individuals. What is it that you can do that helps them meet their personal objectives? If you get to that stage… you’re not concerned if one of your junior lawyers is doing his press ups or going for a run in the middle of the day because you know very well that they will be delivering what you require of them’.

McLaren said there are an ‘awful lot of stressed law firms at the moment’ and some partners are sharing less work than before, resulting in ‘very uneven’ distribution.

Deborah Enix-Ross, a senior adviser at international firm Debevoise & Plimpton, also warned that some firms are treating fee earners more generously than others, and that support staff are facing challenges.

‘There has been some controversy because a number of firms have paid Covid bonuses before year-end bonuses, while others have not. They have been paid to associates in recognition of how difficult it’s been to work during this time of pandemic,’ she said.

‘That’s good but it has engendered some concerns and mixed feelings. There haven’t been those bonuses, as far as I’m aware of, that have been paid to what we would call support staff…I do think it points to a need to be careful in how we communicate the value that we see in people.’

City firms have reined in their return plans in the wake of new coronavirus restrictions, with Stepheson Harwood, Hogan Lovells and Eversheds Sutherland all suspending plans to get staff back to the office.