City firms are getting ready to welcome staff back to their offices, but it will be a strange new world of temperature testing, one way routes and skeleton crews.

This month representatives from 14 firms including the Magic Circle, Herbert Smith Freehills, Eversheds Sutherland, CMS, Norton Rose Fulbright and Pinsent Masons convened on a Law Society coronavirus committee to share tips on how to safely return to work in the office. 

Fieldfisher set out its plans to initially allow only 10% of staff to return to the office, with staffing levels increasing over time to a maximum of just 25%. It will also impose a one-way system along corridors and in stairwells, along with temperature testing and staggered arrival and departure times to avoid rush hour crowds. Helpfully, its China office has sent face masks to the London HQ, reported the Law Gazette.

Hogan Lovells, which is not on the Law Society committee, will also be dishing out masks. But its will be ‘3-ply’ after the firm decided to donate its reserves of N95 masks to healthcare providers.


The age of the introvert.

Hogan Lovells said it was likely to require staff to wear masks in common areas, and to impose social distancing in meeting rooms. It also intends to reduce the number of people in the office by implementing a rota system “so you only come in certain days of the week”.

HogLove said it would also be “providing significant quantities of hand sanitiser”, which not too long ago would have been a strange promise to hear from a law firm.

The current conditions in Wuhan offer a glimpse into the dystopian future awaiting UK office workers. In the Chinese city, track and trace apps and frequent temperature checks bring the possibility of isolation requirements at any time, and a green ‘all clear’ status is coveted. At work, silent and swift eating in partitioned canteens is expected.

Meanwhile, in the UK, firms continue to seek to reduce their wage bills. Watson Farley & Williams has asked lawyers in its London office to sign up to a four day week with a commensurate reduction in hours, and has proposed extended leave on 30% pay, sources told RollOnFriday.

In a statement the shipping specialist said, "We have asked fee earners in London to sign up to a reduced hours scheme with a commensurate reduction in salary, for an initial period of three months. The firm has also offered a voluntary leave scheme. These are precautionary measures which will only be implemented following due consultation and depending on activity levels in individual practice areas/groups".


Guess who's driving.

The measures are in line with those implemented by some other firms, as are the steps being taken by Bird & Bird. It confirmed this week that it was placing salary reviews and promotions "on hold", and will only be paying out 50% of each bonus due in May. 

A spokesperson for 2Birds said promotions and salary reviews "will be looked at in coming months as we are committed to ensuring our people reach their full potential, despite the current environment". She said the second half of the bonuses would be paid "at a later date".

Tip Off ROF


Marcus Aurelius 29 May 20 09:18

All these measures will last about five minutes, in the face of a) a mostly youngish workforce unconcerned with contracting an illness that would probably only be very mild for them, b) plummeting infection rates in London, and c) the sheer impracticality of most of the suggestions.

Anon 29 May 20 09:21

Is there any point?  The last three months have shown lawyers can work effectively at home and - coronavirus excepted - would rather do more of this than less going forwards as you get to see your kids, avoid the horrific commute etc.  
In any event regardless of what firms do, they can’t effect changes on public transport.   That’s the big issue.  

Anon 29 May 20 09:23

Regarding the above, you’re forgetting that the young tend not to make decisions about how to run firms and they also tend to embrace flexible working 

TiredofthisBS 29 May 20 09:26

Supply free gloves. Open the windows.

Then we can push out the f***wit partners who make these decisions.

Anon 29 May 20 09:35

I'm sure most firms are thinking that we should be doing more of this as it has all worked so very well.  Chargeable is still where it needs to be or even higher.  I'm getting more on the clock now that I was three months ago.  I'm sure they are looking at how they can sublet floors or trigger break clauses.

I don't miss the commute and it wasn't in any way horrific.

Disagree with Marcus 29 May 20 09:40

Apart from the fact that most partners (decision makers in firms) are not part of a), b) is true for the time being but is not static and c) you can make it work, yes office life will change, but think of the 'sheer impracticality', if by doing nothing you infect your whole workforce.

Marcus Aurelius 29 May 20 09:57


For centuries, companies have experienced mass annual infections of their workforce by a respiratory illness. It's called the seasonal flu, and it hasn't stopped them from functioning normally. Sick people mostly stay away, some people get unpleasant but transient symptoms and yes, a few might end up hospitalised. That's life.


As for this system 'working' - any company which thinks that is being comically short-sighted. There is no practical way in which people (trainees or associates) can be trained remotely, meaning the talent pipeline will collapse in a few years. Similarly, collaboration and innovation can't take place when people aren't able to physically work together, further damaging these firms.

Fred 29 May 20 10:14

FFS.  Lawyers are supposed to be professionals who advise clients directly.  In the office, if we're doing our job, we're communicating more with external clients than with colleagues anyway.  Daily farce where we travel to a far off building to switch on our laptops to communicate mostly with people who aren't in the same building anyway.  Utter farce.  Need to get more like how barristers operate. I need an office building in the same way I need a horse.  Masks? All this crap just to herd people together?   Do they still have paper files in filing cabinets?  Or is it because the fax machine is in the office or what?   Offices for commercial lawyers have been obsolete for c 20 years.  Lot of real estate vested interests though.  Also micro manager aholes.  And young lonely people searching for a mate.  Adults don't need offices. 

Anon 29 May 20 10:23

Marcus Aurelius - you sound like a flat earther. 

When was the last time season flu killed at least 40,000 people in the space of a few months even during a mass lockdown?

Anon 29 May 20 10:29

“collaboration and innovation can't take place when people aren't able to physically work together”

Bless.  Apart from this merely being a bare assertion without any attempt to provide evidence or explain it, it’s clear you’ve  obviously never worked in a global business where people from the all around the world rarely meet but work highly successfully.  

Marcus Aurelius 29 May 20 11:02

@10:23 About 30,000 people died from seasonal flu in 2014/15, which is only about 10,000 less than the predicted Covid-19 death toll in Britain this year (bearing in mind, of course, that in many of the deaths attributed to coronavirus, coronavirus was not the actual cause of death).

@10:29 These global businesses only function with the help of regular conferences, business trips, international travel and physical networking in cafés, bars and restaurants. Take away all of that, and innovation will wither on the vine. 

Anonymous 29 May 20 11:22

Most offices will remain occupied by skeletal support staff.  On occasion fee earners will pop in. There may be some clusters of juniors who need supervision from the poor associates that draw the short straws.

Anonymous 29 May 20 12:03

Marcus Aurelius 29 May 20 11:02

bearing in mind, of course, that in many of the deaths attributed to coronavirus, coronavirus was not the actual cause of death).

Got some peer-reviewed evidence for that claim?

YvaYvonne 29 May 20 12:39

Now that law firms have realised how successfully staff can work from home, it's likely that they'll close or reduce the size of offices to cut down spending on overheads. Staff will then have the choice of continuing to work from home or go to a smaller hot desking office, if and when they need to. Only those that must be in the office will commute into work.

Covid-19 has shown that the white collar business world can work remotely thanks to the internet.



Anon 29 May 20 13:10

Marcus Aurelius 

The average deaths for a decade are 17,000 for seasonal flu.  And those have taken place without lockdown. 

The coronavirus has killed at least 40,000 even despite a lockdown.  You claim that this is the total for this year when we are in May.  How do you know?  In addition there has been widespread and accepted medical evidence that absent such measures the death toll would have been significantly higher.  That is why virtually every government in the world has reacted to bring in restrictions.  You think they would all risk trashing economies for fun?

 There is also a vaccine for seasonal flu, hence jabs,  and nothing for coronavirus which is also a new disease with many unknown issues relating to it.  We do know the death rate for coronavirus is much higher and it spreads more easily.  

Your attempts to mirror Trump are humorous.  


Marcus Aurelius 29 May 20 13:56


It's empirically false to suggest that 'absent such measures the death toll would have been significantly higher.' There is essentially no difference between Sweden's trajectory of deaths and ours, despite there having been no lockdown there; not only this, but the R number there is almost identical to Britain's. Deaths in Britain peaked on April 8 - assuming a 14-day pathway from initial infection to death, this means that infections peaked in the middle of March, before a lockdown even happened.

No I don't think various governments are trashing our economy 'for fun'; I think they're well-intentioned people who have placed far too much faith in the theories of hard-left scientists, for whom a lockdown is an ideal attempt to implement their vision of a post-capitalist world. These are, of course, the same sort of people who have been insisting for decades now that there is about to be an imminent ecological disaster killing billions, so forgive me for not being persuaded by them.

Finally, on the death toll; had it not been for the misguided governmental policy (again, 'led by the science') of discharging coronavirus-positive patients into care homes to make room for the 'surge' they insisted was inevitable, the death toll would be over 10,000 lower. The exact numbers of people who, but for coronavirus, would not have died is sadly unknown; the regime for recording coronavirus deaths is uneven and at points subjective, and it is difficult to disaggregate coronavirus deaths with the deaths from other conditions which have gone untreated during this lockdown.

Anon 29 May 20 14:45

God you sound like an irritating six former whose just “got into” politics, making wild accusations you can’t justify.  

Anon3 29 May 20 16:10

Sure, people can work from home easily enough. But is it healthy to spend all day, every day on your own hunched over a laptop in your bedroom/kitchen etc? I think not. I miss the face-to-face collaboration with colleagues, and I know others do too. I would suggest companies alternate 50% of their workforce in one day, then other 50% in the next day. Common sense hygiene precautions like handwashing, regular cleaning and spacing desks out where possible but not overly draconian measures. People's fear of the virus seems disproportionate to the science  

Anonymous 29 May 20 16:50

Marcus Aurelius is a hilarious pseudonym for a COVID troll, given that the emperor himself died of plague, throwing the empire into the chaotic reign of his incompetent son Commodus and laying the foundations of the crisis of the third century.

Anonymous 29 May 20 17:00

FIrms really do not want to go to all the pallaver of changing everything to make social distancing work but they really have to as the UK gov (and others Ireland, Spain, Italy, France etc) have been specific in the requirements for offices to open.  So blaming partners /managemen for stupid decisions is just ignorant.  And yes, there will be more people working from home more often than before but offices will still be needed as lawyers will just not get over the need to print off thousands of pages of emails so they will need all the hard working print room and mail staff to work in the offices to send said forests to the lawyers' lovely homes.

The next generation 29 May 20 18:11

If law firms miss the opportunity to reorganize themselves in a way that makes sense for 2020 then they'll come to regret it. Working from home is the new norm. We mustn't give in to these old, panic-stricken partners. They've had their time.

a perfectly normal human being 30 May 20 04:58

Despite the dire predictions of the gasbag talking head industry that pops up to make its gravy every time there's any kind of a crisis, none of this stuff is going to last more than a month or so. Social distancing will last as long as the fear of the virus lasts, and humans have short memories. The all-cause mortality rate is already back to baseline.

I give it about a month until the New Normal (TM) of office life looks exactly the same as the old normal.

a perfectly normal human being 30 May 20 05:00

Also: most partners in law firms are well within the age demographic that is largely unaffected y Covid-19.

Nostradamus' mate 30 May 20 10:21

Unless they have hall monitors and prefects people will go back to the way they were before the half-hearted lockdown within a week of returning.

It's only those who have been seriously affected either by their own illness or the illness or death of someone close to them who take it seriously.

The second wave is coming and there won't be a second statutory lockdown.  Better hope your firm is one which has enough sense to impose one voluntarily.  Risk management teams should be working flat out to prepare for this right now.

Piers Corbyn 31 May 20 08:29

@ Nostradamus' mate 30 May 20 10:21

You're right about the second wave.  The government needs a second wave.  Without one, the refusal to extend the Brexit transition period and the subsequent economic damage the resulting no-deal (aka Australia deal aka WTO terms) Brexit will be clearly the fault of dogma and poor policy.

With a second wave, the extra inflation, job losses, bankruptcies and emergency procurements channelling billions into the coffers of Tory donors and Brexit supporters can all be explained away as caused by the virus.

Anonymous 31 May 20 09:04

It’s not the office or firms preparations I am concerned about.........

how are we supposed to get there in the first place on public transport whilst maintaining social distancing?

Jeremy Corbyn 31 May 20 11:05

@Piers Corbyn.

Oh, comrade. You should stick to what you know best - climate change and "new world order" conspiracy theories (or: the demented ramblings of a confused geriatric). 

For those of you who don't know: Piers Corbyn - Jeremy's brother - really does believe in all this stuff. You should check out his Twitter feed. It's priceless.

DooShits 31 May 20 19:07

Spare a thought for the chumps running Shoosmiths who spunked millions of quid they borrowed rolling out hot desking everywhere creating lots of office space which is not fit for purpose. I thought I'd joined a national firm. Turns out I joined Keystone. Brilliant.

Work for any accountants firm and it's the same. Doh!

Nostradamus' mate 01 June 20 07:14

Shut up Jeremy.  You know nothing.  Loser

I can confirm that on this one Piers is absolutely correct.  The second wave is coming and it's going to be worse than the first.  The govt will use the human and economic carnage to hide the passing of the transition request date and the resultant economic damage.  Just wait and see what happens to the pound on July 1 when the transition request deadline passes.  It aint gonna be pretty.

And for idiots like Jeremy let me remind you that oil is priced in dollars.  And that will just be the beginning......

Anonymous 01 June 20 08:02

@ Jeremy Corbyn

You're one of those Reply Guys aren't you.  Spend all day in your mum's back bedroom or your bedsit staring at your Tesco laptop in your underpants waiting for someone you disagree with on the internet.  Then it's Action Stations and time to get ranty.

I bet you're not even the real Jeremy Corbyn.


Jeremy Corbyn 01 June 20 11:03

By virtue of you having replied to my reply out of disagreement, you surely fit the same description? You're about as smart as Nostradamus' Mate.

I go after Piers Corbyn he's antisemitic and I'm Jewish. It's that simple. 

Also, Tesco laptops?

Anonymouse 04 June 20 20:59

Can't believe there's only one comment on here regarding the commute. WTF is the point of all these measures in the office if you have staff commuting via public transport?

If partners really cared about staff and their wellbeing, rather than paying lip service to it, they would not expect anyone to stop wfh any time soon. Every time someone with a vulnerable family member commutes they increase their own risk of picking up the virus, and with the risk of being asymptomtic they then put that family member at risk. When will the selfish, change resistant partners realise this?

Jeremy Corbyn 04 June 20 22:55

I'm not really Jewish - I was just kidding - and I like a bacon sandwich as much as either of the Miliband brothers. Just hope the pig didn't have swine flu.

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