Law leaders caught up in ‘perfect storm’ of issues

Remote working has proved successful but small firm leaders have been hardest hit by the issues they have faced during covid-19, a report found

31 Jul 2020

Remote working has proved successful but decision-makers in smaller law firms have been hardest hit by the issues they have dealt with during the covid-19 crisis, a report found.

The recently published 2020 Bellwether report on covid-19 and the legal industry found firms have moved three quarters of staff to effective homeworking; and not at the expense of productivity.

This would have been “almost unimaginable” at the start of 2020 when working from home was a long way from the norm, particularly at small firms.

This reflected a lack of technology and “ultimately, the preference of senior leaders”.

However, “the picture has flipped since the start of lockdown” with firm saying that have been able to move 75 per cent of staff to effectively work from home – “a feat that would have been almost unimaginable at the start of the year”.

The report found effectiveness in productivity and output when working remotely dropped by less than 30 per cent, which was much better than feared.

Whether or not remote working becomes the norm in the longer term may not be so clear as the survey revealed a divergence of views.

Women and younger team members, for instance, were found to be more likely to prefer to continue home working but older, decision-making lawyers and firm leaders more likely favoured a return to the office after the pandemic – though in the round, half of all respondents said they expected a permanent change to firm policies around working from home.

Stress levels continued to be a major issue for lawyers, reflecting the reality that wellbeing has not been a priority given the “unrelenting commercial challenges” posed by covid-19.

A report last year (also from Bellwether) revealed that stress and mental wellbeing was a significant issue at work for a disturbingly high majority (90 per cent) of respondents.

Decision-makers have been particularly impacted, “caught in a perfect storm of tougher trading conditions, needing to manage their firms remotely and having to get up to speed with new tech”, says the report.

One firm leader commented: “Motivation and morale is down… which makes practicing law and running a business harder.”

However, firms were generally found to be “bullish” as to the future with fewer firms distressed than were feared given the pandemic.

A Law Society spokesperson said that though the report’s findings are encouraging, “based on our own research with a larger sample size we found firms expressed a less optimistic view of the impact of covid-19 on their business”.

“Many firms, particularly in the legal aid sector, need further UK government support urgently, and with an ongoing lack of clarity about when the courts system can safely get back to capacity, these problems need to be addressed now”, added the spokesperson.

The Bellwether report culminated from 15 independently conducted interviews and online surveys completed by more than 150 solicitors across small firms (and small offices of larger firms in England and Wales).