ever given

As it's free, perhaps there's hope.


Lawyers have warned that firms are expecting them to be on call more than ever before as they work from home. 

A senior lawyer at Scottish firm Burness Paul said working from home "has resulted in an insidious creep towards the working side of the work/life balance. Closing the laptop at 7pm now feels like a half day". 

Commenting for a Financial Times report that law firms faced losing junior staff to burnout, Ben Tidswell, the chairman of Ashurst, suggested that a return to the office was required to stem the departure of junior lawyers and improve the mental health of lawyers.

Solicitors told RollOnFriday that partners should also be taught to manage their expectations of lawyers working from home, particularly given the likelihood that partial home working will become a permanent feature of many firms. Several said that lockdown had led to their supervisors assuming they were free to undertake work at any time. 

"The pandemic has eroded all boundaries", said a senior solicitor at Allen & Overy, "We are expected to be available 24/7".

"Respect for private time during the pandemic has diminished", agreed a junior solicitor at Clifford Chance, who said it was "not uncommon to receive messages at 10/11pm asking for work to be completed instantly on the assurance that the government has left you with little else to do".  

"There is without doubt an expectation that we're online and at our virtual desks for longer in the day", said a solicitor at Pinsent Masons. "There is no 'switch off' button anymore".

"For the last eight months I've been receiving emails from my partner at 11:30pm and being expected to deal with them them", echoed a junior solicitor at US firm Debevoise & Plimpton. Even taking into account the brutal hours which can be expected at some US firms, "that wasn't normal when we were in the office", she said.

Others specified that the number of hours they were working had not necessarily increased, but an expectation that they would always be available had spread.

"Working from home has resulted in clients and other lawyers deciding that the working day is every hour of every day", said a Linklaters lawyer. "We're not doing more work, but we're constantly on call and I can't leave my laptop."  With WFH becoming the norm, "there is a creeping expectation" that lawyers would "respond to emails on your annual leave", said a junior solicitor at Eversheds Sutherland.

In RollOnFriday's satisfaction survey of over 5,000 legal professionals, many lawyers reported that homeworking had improved their work/life balance, and the mean mark across all respondents - 74% - reflected a high degree of satisfaction on a par with last year's score of 75%. But the result hid polarisation, with some lawyers benefitting greatly from WFH, and others suffering. 

A White & Case junior solicitor said that while "extended working from home has been a revelation”, which involved “lying in bed until midday while scrolling through the interwebs and casually monitoring the work phone for urgent crises”, the flip side during lockdowns was that "partners felt less guilty about interrupting our weekends when they knew full well we had no plans beyond watching Netflix and gouging a deep butt groove in the sofa".

Law firm management should now focus on respecting work/life boundaries as lockdowns evaporate and partial homeworking remains, said lawyers.

Several reported that it had been possible to educate their supervisors and nudge them in the right direction. A senior solicitor at Addleshaw Goddard said lockdown "resulted in a rash of 9am meetings and up to 3 training sessions at lunch each week", but "that stopped after someone had a gentle word".

"Some of the partners took a little while getting used to it", said a senior solicitor at Mishcon de Reya, "calling us A LOT to check in, but now I can schedule my day pretty much how I like, as long as I get the work done on time and am around for important calls and meetings. I never used to like working from home, but now I think it is brilliant", she said. "It has been great for my mental health."

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Comments

Anon 09 April 21 10:06

I think its interesting - I am perhaps more inclined to linger and "go back" after a break and pick something up and deal with it quickly and 8/9pm when its not "required" however at the same time, I bugger off at 6:30pm most evenings to have dinner with my wife because I want to do that and then I can do a quick bit of post dinner triage and find it works well.

Admittedly, I'm not a corporate/transactional lawyer so the occasions when stuff has to be done "now" are pretty limited. I also have the benefit of understanding partners who know that the work will get done on time and don't get shitty if they don't get an immediate response or a call goes unanswered such that I feel better getting away for a run, step out for a walk etc that I would when at the office.

Anon 09 April 21 10:32

At Kirkland and Ellis, the partners have been incredibly understanding. I wouldn’t say my hours have been any worse during the pandemic. Everyone realised that there’s no point putting in 14 hour days if the quality of the advice you’re providing is sub-optimal. I think that’s why we’ve got a reputation for excellence and for treating employees fairly and like adults 

Grateful 09 April 21 10:35

I guess it depends where you work. I'm at a city firm, and have not had to deal with any of this nonsense. 

3-ducks 09 April 21 10:42

I do find that sloping off at 3.30 on a Friday is less easy than it was in the office, but other than that,  it's much better. Log out at 5pm and have a sundowner. No commute. No brainer. 

Tuktuk2002 09 April 21 11:25

I was put onto part time hours when covid struck, I didn't mind that too much as, at least I had a job, but I seriously object to being paid for part time hours then getting the office trying to call and contact me when I am not being paid to work becasue some tw#t solicitor on the other side says it is "urgent" or completion "must happen today" or a client wants a quote "now". 

You either pay me for full time hours or you manage this situations when they occur. You dont make it my problem.

Steven 09 April 21 11:50

Depends on where you work and whether you have any back bone... If you're not standing up for your want to have a private life then don't complain about it to ROF. Most lawyers I meet who moan about their hours either secretly love their martyrdom or are too afraid to stick up for themselves and their time. No-one can make you work harder than you want to, it might impact your career at that place but why do you want to stay anyway if you're complaining about the lifestyle? Give work as much as you are prepared to, if your boss doesn't like it find another one at another firm and don't perpetuate terrible working practices.

3-ducks 09 April 21 12:01

Steven has pretty much nailed it at 11.50.

I do wonder though if some of the people on here have time management issues? If they can't get through their workload during normal office hours, there's obviously a problem somewhere. Perhaps they're taking too much on?

Sheer Heart Attack 09 April 21 12:13

They will get me back in that office when they strap me to a team of wild horses and drag me there. If the juniors want supervision, I'm on a Teams call in an instant.

F*ck the commute, f*ck the waste of a life on a train, f*ck the neglect of family time.  It's time we realised how corrosive it is.

Anonymous 09 April 21 12:58

Was told to work longer as I would be "travelling home from the office usually anyway", all unpaid, extra hours all the time, no thanks no appreciation. Left and never looked back. ES

NoBoundariesNoLife 09 April 21 13:26

It’s really quite simple, manage your time better and get some boundaries!  Stop saying yes, if you wouldn’t have accommodated it pre-pandemic and are now, you’ve created your own circus! 

So many people I know complain about working til all hours and taking calls very early and late, but the truth is when you push them on it, they will admit they let go of any boundaries and willingly set the precedent they now struggle to back-peddle from.  I’ve worked a lot more hours in lockdown where I don’t have a 90 min commute each way, but on the flip side I have used the extra time wisely and have been promoted as a result.  I’m not afraid to say NO though, because once you’ve set a precedent for this stuff it’ll be a nightmare when back in office as they’ll expect the same hours (in addition to you commuting etc).

Anonymous 09 April 21 14:00

All depends on your drive and desire.

 

I'm always going to be stuck in senior associate purgatory. Stuff working harder for the same money. Love my work-life balance. 

Fake Partner 09 April 21 15:20

I work in the office 2 days a week, and from home 3 days a week. I actually prefer being in the office. However, on the days I'm home I can leave at 4:45 P.M. to pick up my son from daycare and be back in 10 minutes, spend some time with my wife and kid and have dinner. Once the 3 year old is in bed at 8 P.M. I can do some work between then and 10:00 P.M., if needed. I like the flexibility - but the key really is that I don't have to waste 2 hours per day commuting on the subway. Now when I go in to the office I can actually drive and be in the office in 15-20 minutes because there isn't traffic on the roads (before Covid a 7 mile drive could take an hour into Boston). But for a lot of UK workers a 3 hour+ round trip on the train is not uncommon - which can be an unpleasant and time consuming mess - not to mention the expense. Flexibility will be the key going forward. I don't mind getting emails at night if I can go for a 30 minute run at lunch time and pick up my son from daycare. 

Paper Cuts 09 April 21 16:11

I work in-house in a start-up.  I work all hours now, but I worked all hours then (pre covid) too.  My pre covid routine was work in office from 9-6 and work from home from 8-midnight.  I just do the same now, minus the commute.

Cracks me up when I hear people talking about how an office helps with demarcation lines between work and home life etc - rubbish – you always work from home anyway.  At least now it's honest; previously I worked all the flipping time anyway, except I just changed locations once during the day. 

 

Employee 09 April 21 20:53

Too many partners slope off to have dinner/look after children mid afternoon, expecting juniors to be available at the drop of a hat once they return, having taken no breaks. Also juniors at the mercy of partners who like to begin their working day at 2pm...

Anon 09 April 21 23:06

I’m in the transactional space (M&A) and the past year has been the busiest of my career. It’s been brutal and I can only hope when social activities resume most clients will piss off to the pub rather than harass us at ungodly hours. WFH or not, that is what will help us return to “normal” working hours.  

Anon 11 April 21 07:17

Credit to Herbert Smith they haven’t been like this. We’ve had the message right from the top not to expect juniors to answer out of hours. 

all washed up 11 April 21 17:40

My theory is that WFH exaggerates the office vibe. The intensity is more intense and when it's quiet, you can literally go to sleep. I basically want everyone to go back again so they can waste time commuting, bitching in the kitchen and sloping off for coffees instead of sending me demanding emails.

Otto 14 April 21 13:38

Home working, and always being available etc, reminds me of the unlimited annual leave thing that a few firms did.

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