COVID-19 has been disrupting businesses and law firms in fundamental ways. While many firms have been getting it right in navigating their staff through the crisis, other firms have managed to crank up the anxiety of their employees. 

We will not name and shame the firms that appear to be getting it wrong, as these are difficult and unprecedented times. But hopefully these examples (out of dozens of emails received) might assist firms in learning how not to treat staff during an emergency.

In some cases there has been a dichotomy in what staff have told RollOnFriday their firms are doing, and what the firms profess to be doing. Which, at the very least, may mean that firms need to improve the ways they communicate with staff during tough times. 

While the majority of firms have been telling their staff to work remotely this week, an insurance firm with offices across the UK was lambasted by numerous staff members for being "completely unprepared due to their chronic lack of investment in their IT systems" resulting in the servers being unable to "cope with everyone working from home". The firm was also criticised for having an insufficient number of laptops for staff to work from home.

The firm's apparent lack of concern for the well-being of its staff was also highlighted. One angry insider told RollOnFriday that after the Prime Minister advised people to work from home, the firm's Managing Partner sent an email to staff "stating that despite government guidance, the health secretary has said those that are healthy should go into the office." Another insider said that a colleague with “a chronic condition" and a "very weak immune system" was initially told by the firm that her condition wasn't serious enough to work from home and she had to produce a doctor's note and argue with HR before the firm agreed that she didn’t have to come in. 

"We have prioritised homeworking for those at risk, as deemed by the government," a spokeswoman for the insurance firm told RollOnFriday. "We have the capacity for over 70% of people to work from home and are taking urgent steps to increase that capacity" she added. "Around a quarter of staff cannot work remotely due to the nature of their roles." She also said that the firm does "not operate in an entirely paperless way and we need to carefully consider our GDPR obligations to our clients", but that "we have measures in place to scan documents for those teams who have not yet moved to a paperless environment".

"At this stage therefore we do not have immediate plans to close our offices or move to 100% home working", the spokeswoman said.  "We are therefore implementing a combination of home working and measures to support social distancing."  


not paperless

All ready for remote working by April 2021


An insider at a US firm said that management had discouraged staff from working remotely. "Juniors, trainees and PAs" were under "the most pressure to come in", said the source. "Some have been attending work despite minor symptoms, for risk of being seen as not resilient." 

A spokesman for the US firm said they would make "no comment" other than to say that the London office had now closed and all fee earners were working from home "apart from limited staff to support infrastructure".

At a PI firm, a source told RollOnFriday "going against all government guidance" the firm "is still remaining open and requiring all staff to come in, including members of staff with underlying health issues such as asthma." The insider added "it is now common knowledge that other firms are closing down, however our firm have sent round an email listing the 'financial year end' as their top priorities.”

A spokesman for the PI firm said, “vulnerable people with health issues have been identified and arrangements have been put in place to ensure they have everything they need to work at home."  He added that "remote access is already available to all employees" and "we are working rapidly towards having the majority of staff working at home."

At a London head-quartered firm with offices across the UK, an insider said that after the government had told people to work from home, an internal communication offered contradictory advice by telling staff that the firm's offices “remain open” and they “should proceed as normal and come in.” However, a spokesman for the firm said that the communication said that if staff "knew that they were not required to be in the office for any reason and could sensibly work from home then that is what they should do, particularly if based in London. Otherwise the offices were open if they needed to get something done.”

Not all staff complained. An insider at Freshfields was pleased to report that the firm was reimbursing associates on a case-by-case basis for computer monitors, laptop stands and wireless keyboards. "Other firms should do the same," said the source. 

"We will be operating a remote-first policy for as long as necessary and continue to take into account current advice and guidance from local governments in each country and the wishes of our people and our clients," said a spokeswoman for the Magic Circle firm. "Our business and our commitment to our clients continues as usual."

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Comments

Anonymous 20 March 20 08:36

What about Freshfields staff who need to work from home? Are they paying for their own equipment?

All that Glitters 20 March 20 09:06

What PI firm could you be talking about? Is it one that has Microsoft managed desktops that is owned by a hedge fund? 

The Mad Hatter 20 March 20 09:17

As a recent joiner at BCLP I’ve been hugely impressed and reassured by the way in which management and Partners (and staff across all teams and departments) have been handling the Covid-19 crisis. Staff are being looked after and clients are being looked after and the remote-working arrangements are largely effective. I’m very pleased to be at BCLP. 

Fred Shred 20 March 20 09:18

What a bunch of useless employer a*holes.  We've all met them - stuck in their ways, pompous, procedural, know-it-all, callous, back-stabbing, bullying, dull, un-travelled, un-sexy, convinced that their anachronistic, pointless and useless little office diktat-routines are the fulcrum of the world.  

Anon 20 March 20 09:33

Macfarlanes have said across the board, people working remotely (which appears to now be broadly everyone with a desk based role with effectively a skeleton crew manning the offices in the event there is anything business critical that needs to be done onsite - I don't envisage many clients popping in any time soon) can get a monitor and printer/scanner reimbursed up to £200 - I'm waiting for someone to ask about printer paper and ink if this goes on long term! 

Gobblepig 20 March 20 09:47

"Our business and our commitment to our clients continues as usual."

But not our commitment to writing grammatically, it would seem. Magic Circle rates seem to buy one less and less all the time. 

 

CC 20 March 20 09:49

CC also giving £200 towards WFH kit.  Just not printers, paper or ink - confidentiality risk.  

Anon 20 March 20 09:58

I don't think the PI firm is the one everyone is thinking of. I jumped ship last year but my ex collegues have been in touch and they appear to be handling it well with most people working from home early this week.

Anon 20 March 20 10:00

I work for Ince Gordon Dadds and I have to say the Firm's approach to Corona has been extremely good. IT servers have been tested for week so that everyone is able to WFH correctly. We have received frequent communication and they have taken real practical steps to ensure the business is not interrupted.

This sounds like it is coming from HR or marketing (I promise it is not) but the response by the Firm really has been fantastic.

Anonymous 20 March 20 10:29

Anyone know of any superspreaders who were swanning about well after they should have known better and have since developed symptoms after infecting who knows how many?

Anonymous 20 March 20 10:51

Not naming my firm, but generally impressed with how this has been handled.

We conducted a test a couple of weeks ago to see if we could all work from home. Any issues were ironed out then.

As of Monday we have worked from home with only a couple of staff entering each office for short periods to handle post, scanning and minor amounts of printing. This has involved a partner and a secretary being in the office along with the occasional fee earner. 

Emails, Skype and facetime have all been used to good effect. 

Opponents on cases have also been very polite in agreeing extensions of Protocol periods and litigation directions.

Stay safe everyone. 

Who knows 20 March 20 14:47

Where I work, the occasional WFH has been the norm among partners for a while before it was opened for all fee earners. This had the benefit of our IT infrastructure being sufficient to handle the current situation where also assistants and secretaries are WFH. Except from the receptionist I don't even know who is present at our offices. 

The fifth horseman 20 March 20 14:48

With wildfires in Australia, floods in the UK, a plague of locusts across Africa and now pestilence covering the earth one begins to wonder if the last days are upon us.

Graham Gooch 20 March 20 14:50

Work at Wedlake Bell and we have filled in a survey to have monitors, keyboards, printers, scanners etc sent to us free of charge. Appreciate as a small/medium sized firm we can do this but I'm still impressed to be getting all this kit sent to my house free of charge.

Cheers Martin/Kim!

Anon 20 March 20 14:53

Poor old BLM. I know it's MP well. Not surprised to learn they have neither the capability nor the capacity to enable their employees to work from home.

PI 20 March 20 15:44

The PI firms like many others in the mid market are skint so it’s still paper files necessitating their people coming into the office.  
Nobody could have seen this coming but the lack of IT investment due to greedy equity partners taking all the money out is going to see a number of law firms fail in the next quarter. 

Anonymous 22 March 20 06:00

CMS moved their entire UK function to home working immediately on Boris’ announcement on Monday though lots working at home for weeks with firm blessing. Over 3000 working at home and a skeleton facilities staff staying on. The office remains open if people want to collect stuff but people are being told that no bit of paper is worth their health or other people’s...everyone’s got a Surface (inc. secretaries and support staff), bulk buying monitor capacity to receive at home for those that still need them, and amazing IT support. Good, prepared, management who put people and long term good before short-term, short-sighted profit. Do the firms sending these emails really think people will stay working for them when this is all over, or now if they can afford to quit?

Berrymans 22 March 20 11:14

I work for Berrymans. This flu has been blown out of all proportion. It's not unreasonable to ask our fee earners and administrators to go to work. We certainly can't trust them to perform their roles adequately from home. We were hit hard enough by Thomas Cook-gate, a company-wide shutdown would finish us off. For the sake of the firm, we need our employees to continue to travel in.

Anon 22 March 20 12:43

Berrymans, I seriously hope you're being sarcastic. If not and I contract it because I've been forced to come in to the office, I will hunt you down and cough on you. 

Anonymous 22 March 20 17:39

Buckles Solicitors in Peterborough are forcing staff to come in to work despite having elderly loved ones at home, who are participating vulnerable. 

Anon 23 March 20 13:29

It’s a risk that some firms have gambled on - don’t spend money on good IT and WFH capability on the basis that jam today is better for partners.   Well, the firms mentioned above have been careless at best and grossly immoral at worst, in making staff attend the office.   Sooner or later WFH will be enforced, and these firms will go under or struggle.   

Anonymous 23 March 20 14:39

I'm waiting to see if my firm will go ahead and capitalise on this situation as an excuse to give out lower pay increments and bonuses after our financial year end in April (despite already paying out increments only in July), while remunerating partners at the same level. The firm has practically adopted all the tactics complained of in this article and has had an abysmal response to repeated exhortations by staff to allow remote working since the outbreak hit us in Singapore in January(!).

BLM 23 March 20 21:25

There will be a full-scale mutiny in Planation Place and Manchester if, after tonight's announcement, we are still being forced to be in the office. You have been warned.

The fifth horseman 24 March 20 08:26

On the bright side, by the time this thing is finished there will probably be a few new vacancies in the partnership.

Ed 24 March 20 09:17

I know a firm that are making people buy their own laptops to work from home but even then only vulnerable people are working from home meaning many staff are still exposing themselves to public transport. They have put the business first not employees and many staff will leave after this is over.

Anon 24 March 20 11:15

Just been looking at the Corona page on the Helphub.  To get remote acess you need to request it and the details will be emailed to you.   I don't have access to my work emails from home.  To get access to emails on your personal phone, you need to request it and the details of how to do so will be emailed to you by IT.  You couldn't make it up!  

The fifth horseman 24 March 20 16:44

@Ed - 09:17

Most people won't leave.  It'll be bad for morale temporarily and some my hold a resentment (or add it to the lists of resentments they hold) for a long while but most will stay.

I can't believe you're surprised to discover that businesses put the needs of the business before that of the employees.  Did you expect it to be the other way around?

TCs revoked? 24 March 20 21:24

Does anyone think this is likely to happen? I have an offer for 2021 however I’m becoming increasingly worried :(

@anon 1115 24 March 20 22:34

If only there was some sort of space where you could enter a personal email address. Maybe a "box" of some sort, that could contain "text". 

That's it! I've coined it! A "text box"! Write your personal email into the text box and the details will be emailed directly to you!

Anonymous 25 March 20 03:21

Are any other firms making layoffs or is DWF the only one being #bettertogether by making people redundant? 

Anon 25 March 20 09:35

To the fifth horsemen - speak for yourself.  Read the comments.   Many firms are acting responsibly and have invested in their IT and WFH and are putting in place daily team calls, to keep morale up.  I’m at a large City firm and we have been told to take full hour at lunch, and ensure we are mentally well.  Communication is excellent.  Successful businesses realise that long term success comes from having a loyal and happy workforce.  

Anonymous 25 March 20 14:04

DWF are making layoffs, and treating their people like disposable paperclips. Not even a week in and they're culling their staff during the most unprecedented global crisis the world has ever seen. Great to see how they treat their workforce during times of stress. #bettertogether

Anon 26 March 20 10:18

This crisis lays bare the true nature of different firms.  They all say in the good times they value their staff and care about mental well being.  Any fool can say those things when the going is easy.  The test is when it actually matters - like now - the usual suspects fail utterly in their duty of care to their staff.   It’s not surprising to see the insurance - dependent firms mentioned.  They are treated like dirt by their own clients and this creates a cynical atmosphere.  

Anonymous 26 March 20 10:48

It is a shame that DWF is treating its employees in this manner, and this is a really short term view of the situation. If the firm is letting go off people in these terrible times, it says a lot about the management of the firm. 
 

 

Anonymous 27 March 20 07:48

Slater and Gordon have handled this brilliantly. The IT investment has paid off and pastorally they’re taking great care. 

Anonymous 27 March 20 08:02

I pray for Howard Kennedy. The average age of the many consultants (i.e. pretty much all of the "retired" partners whom the firm has allowed to stay on in their twilight years when they couldn't bear to leave) is about 80 (and I'm not kidding). 

Anonymous 27 March 20 08:10

Shoos have pretty much dispensed with offices anyway. We have laptops and no desk-phones except in the meeting rooms. No-one even notices if you're not in because with hot-desking you could be anywhere. If the firm goes bust, you'll probably still find people at home claiming to work for Shoos years later like some kind of legal Hiroo Onada.