Law firms say staff remain upbeat and resilient in the face of unprecedented working restrictions caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Remote working has become commonplace overnight, and firms are using platforms such as Skype and WhatsApp to stay in touch. Some have even held ‘social’ occasions, where lawyers join each other on conference calls for drinks at home.
Firms report they have had daily updates from chief executives and senior partners, while many say employers have sought to ensure workers’ mental health is protected.
National firm Slater and Gordon has 90% of its staff working remotely and has encouraged people to share photos of their home workspace to encourage a team atmosphere. As of Monday, the firm was advertising for 82 roles - all of which will be set up to immediately work from home.
Tracey Barton, an associate at south west firm Wolferstans, said her employer had immediately told people identified as vulnerable to work from home and arranged taxis and lifts for those requiring public transport to get into work.
City giants Allen & Overy and Baker McKenzie were among the first firms to tell staff to work from home until at least the end of March.
Meanwhile, Cardiff and London firm Hugh James said its IT and paperless systems have worked well, and that staff have organised a ‘virtual Prosecco evening’ to replace their regular meet-up.
South-east firm Pennington Manches has held team meetings using video conferencing site Zoom. This is being rolled out for client meetings and potentially for use in court. The firm has also organised virtual coffee breaks and drinks with contacts.
The Partnership, a south-east conveyancing firm, moved 50% of staff to remote working within two days, with the rest following soon after. London firm Oliver Fisher has been testing home working for a year and through Microsoft Teams ensured workers stay in touch.
Simon Bruce, a family lawyers with London firm Farrer & Co, said the team has created a Whatsappp group to boost morale, with an unwritten rule to keep interactions all positive.
Personal injury settlements have continued despite lawyers working from home. Yorkshire firm Switalskis negotiated a settlement for a brain injury claim using video conferencing. North west firm CFG Solicitors has all staff working from home and settled its first case within hours. Staff have shared videos with each other on tips for working from home.
Several law centres have shifted advice operations to the phone to ensure access to justice continues. North East Law Centre took the ‘difficult decision’ to suspend its outreach advice clinics and face-to-face advice. Advice will now be provided by phone, email or Skype.
Firms have also increased their community outreach work. West Midlands firm Talbots Law has created collection points for staff to make donations to foodbanks. John Tippett-Cooper, head of CSR at national firm Capsticks, said he had been ‘inundated’ with employees asking to help local communities, and all food and drink usually ordered to offices had been donated to charities.
The Law Society is updating its coronavirus advice regularly.
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‘Virtual prosecco’: Law firms adjust to Covid-19 crisis