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."