Two firms in the top 100 have outlined plans to furlough staff in quieter practice areas as the legal sector continues to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
Both national firm Weightmans and Leeds firm Walker Morris say they have taken action to conserve cash and protect as many jobs as possible.
There is no suggestion that either business has underlying problems, and this type of response is expected to be replicated across the sector this month. Commercial and conveyancing work in particular has dried up during the lockdown, although demand has increased in some other practice areas such as wills and probate.
Weightmans says it has initiated a voluntary furlough programme, using the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme, with every eligible employee given the option to participate.
A Weightmans spokesperson said: ‘Our priority in this period of terrible uncertainty is to preserve jobs. Current trading, right up until the end of March, has so far been unaffected. Indeed short-term, we have seen an increase in demand for some of our services, unsurprisingly however we have begun to see a drop in short-term future demand for some other services. There will also be delays in progressing types of work because of limitations on how institutions can operate under current restrictions to save lives and protect our NHS.’
He added that the firm will continue to monitor the pandemic’s impact ‘to ensure our operating structures remain fit for purpose’. Salaries will be topped up to 100% in many cases to help minimise the impact on staff.
Walker Morris managing partner Malcolm Simpson said his firm had taken action to give it the best opportunity to come through. Those in quieter practice areas will be part of the government’s job retention scheme, with pay topped up by the firm. Partners have agreed reductions in monthly drawings and will not receive any distributions until the period of uncertainty is over.
Simpson said: ‘We are better placed than most firms to see this out, but even the strongest firms face a significant challenge if this continues for several months. At the moment none of us know how long the lockdown will continue, nor the damage that will be done to our clients and the economy in the meantime.
‘We have worked hard to build the fantastic teams we have throughout the firm and our aim is to keep those teams together, protecting as many jobs as possible – all of them if we can. I am enormously proud of the way everyone at Walker Morris is pulling together to get us through this.’
*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.