Zen

With the right WFH set-up, Keith had a zen energy about the mammoth document review ahead


In the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2021, staff were asked to rate their firm's response to the pandemic. Travers Smith emerged as the Jacinda Ardern of firms, topping the table with a score of 97%. DAC Beachroft was just pipped to the post, placing second with a score of 96%.

"The IT changes over the past couple of years have transformed the firm," said a senior lawyer at Travers Smith (97%). When the pandemic started "everyone (from partners to paralegals to business services) was comfortably up and running from home almost immediately." For WFH needs, the firm gave "recommendations on everything from monitors to headsets" with "no real limits in place" for expenses.

Another lawyer also commended the firm for "readily providing reimbursement for home office equipment" which made "remote working as easy as being in the office".  

The firm ran a series of "lockdown diaries", described by a junior lawyer as "incredibly honest and refreshing, not what you would expect from a corporate firm, particularly one with a blue blooded reputation." A senior lawyer was also "impressed" with "the open sharing of personal stories and perspectives".

Travers has been "pro-active in arranging virtual events / team socials during lockdown that don't suck", said a senior lawyer. And the firm introduced "new policies to cater for those with children who are home-schooling during the pandemic," said a Travers trainee.

DAC Beachcroft placed second with a score of 96%. "We were all set up to work remotely with every person having a laptop and everything accessible remotely prior to the pandemic," said a lawyer.  "We heard horror stories of other firms not having laptops," said a partner, "but DACB had moved everyone onto laptops some time ago so we were ready to go."

A Business Services staffer praised the firm's IT department for "getting everyone up and running from home in a matter of days". A partner agreed that the "IT team stepped up massively when this shitstorm hit, and should be revered forevermore".   

The firm was praised for connecting with staff via seminars, exercise classes and websites (one site with the name 'Not Home alone') which all helped "with both physical and mental health challenges whilst working from home," said a member of staff.  

One senior lawyer summarised the firm's approach: "I trust our senior management more than Boris and the government on Covid matters."  


FOTY Covid


Six firms were tied in joint-third position on 95%.

A trainee at White & Case (95%) said the firm was "great moving to WFH; we all got budget for IT equipment or desks/chairs, they increased salaries and have given us three extra holiday days and an extra bonus to say thank you." 

"The firm has been amazing," said another member of staff. "From the allowance for home office purchases, to the many perks they have put on eg. sending everyone a code to order Deliveroo, a picnic set etc."

At Ropes & Gray (95%) a Business Services member of staff said the firm had taken safety seriously: "I haven't actually been into the office since March 2020 and there has been no pressure on me to go."

A junior lawyer said the firm's "response has been excellent" with "no pressure to return to the office, unlike many firms we have been reading about in the news that seemed desperate to force staff back in".

A series of initiatives has kept staff connected: "from coffee catch ups with random groups to replicate the office kitchen scenarios, to cocktail making evening social Zooms, with kits being delivered to your door." 

A lawyer at Shearman & Sterling (95%) said, "we have been provided with all the equipment we could ask for" and "allowed to work from anywhere (subject to no tax implication check of course)". He also praised the firm for its "support of families with flexi arrangements during school shut down."

Mills & Reeve (95%) "has been very big on mental health and ensuring that we all know who we can speak to, should we need to," said a Business Services member of staff. "As soon as Covid hit, we were all kitted out with laptops, second screens, chairs and given a budget to purchase our home office equipment," said another. 

A senior lawyer commended the firm for its "virtual events to help people keep in touch", noting "I think I've spoken to my team more this year with our regular catch ups than I did when we were in the office!"

At Keystone Law (95%), a number of staff pointed out that remote working was the norm before the pandemic. "It was very much 'business as usual' from the first lockdown," said one lawyer.  "Ahead of the curve as always," said another.

"Legal work was always delivered remotely," said a Business Services member of staff, "but the firm was very quick to move socialising online with regular weekly speed networking/social events and they have even created an online pub ('The Keystone Arms') for after hours socialising. The community aspect of Keystone has always been very important and is as strong as ever."

A partner said the firm had kept everyone involved, and even "sent us branded masks".

"We didn't take furlough money, and no-one has been made redundant," said a Business Services member of staff, "the firm is as strong if not stronger than it was pre-Covid."

Clarke Willmott also scored 95%. A senior lawyer said that management "had already invested in IT before the pandemic so it was a relatively smooth transition for the fee earners to work from home." She also praised the firm for setting up "online well-being services including yoga, meditation, parent support groups and financial health support."

"Laptops were handed out and when they ran out slimline desktops were packed up in their entirety into boxes and instructions given on how to set them up at home," said a Business Services member of staff, "by the time we went into the national lockdown everyone was able and set up to work from home." She added the firm has provided "advice and support for mental health...I feel closer than before to a lot of the people I work with." 

A Business Services member of staff at Osborne Clarke (94%) said the firm had provided "excellent communication" and "lots of new initiatives in place to ensure people are looked after - free online pilates, mental health checks, virtual 'blind date' coffee meetings."

A junior lawyer said "the WFH roll-out process was very smooth and the firm has been excellent at making sure people are well and staying in touch, both professionally and personally. There has been no pressure to return to the office."

At fellow Bristol firm, a senior lawyer at Burges Salmon (93%) said "getting out of the pointless culture of presenteeism of the office has been a positive. It would be good if they adopted more flexible working permanently."

"Any equipment we needed for our home offices was paid for by the firm and delivered in super quick timing. Brand new laptops, iPhones, monitors, chairs, desks, whatever we needed we got," said a trainee, who also appreciated the "Burges Salmon goodie bag of Haribo and stress toys".   

The firm was also praised for paying back the government furlough money. "Responsible business, not being greedy with profits - I am proud to work here," said a trainee.

Mayer Brown (93%) was praised for providing "regular updates, lots of team meetings and virtual socials," and "weekly Spotify lists with a theme chosen by members of the team."

At RPC (93%) a junior lawyer praised the firm for "avoiding use of furlough or redundancies, and even topping up the pay of the staff of third party contractors such as the catering staff." There had also been "significant engagement about what staff want to do when they return to the office, and what future working from home may look like." 

"The firm has been really innovative in how it brings people together whilst working from home," said another member of staff, "coffee roulette links you up with someone else in the firm to have a coffee and chat together."

"Comparatively small gestures go a long way," said a senior lawyer. "The surprise hamper of tea/biscuits/chocs that arrived mid-lockdown being a case in point. It shows that someone in management has taken the time to think about staff, and spent some money on them."

Tip Off ROF

Comments

Ex-DACB 26 February 21 09:13

Pretty confused by DACB’s score. We had to buy our own equipment and when reimbursement was suggested it was turned down.

Also a lot of the firm took a 20% pay cut. No issues with that in itself but we were told to keep working round the clock so clients didn’t suspect that we’d reduced our hours. This included numerous evenings and weekends which is quite surprising given that the justification for the cut was that there was no work to do in the first place.

Anon 26 February 21 09:35

These surveys are not reliable.  There is no mention of how many people responded per firm, so there are huge questions marks about how representative the polls are.  You could find 10-15 disgruntled people in ANY firm, and 10-15 happy and proud people too.  The results simply cherry pick particular people who choose to voice an opinion and it’s then represented as reflecting the whole firm.  It’s also likely that PR teams feed back positive comments.  

Current DACB 26 February 21 09:36

Pretty confused by the above comment. Frankly bollocks. The firm had a clear reimbursement policy for purchase and also let everyone go in and take whatever items they needed from the office from monitors to chairs to make home working sustainable. 
 

I work in one of the arrears impacted by the 20% reduction - it wasn’t firmwide. There was a very clear message that you had no obligation to work on your non working day - of course people chose to do so to service clients on occasion but this was genuinely about a reduction in work. Part time workers have always behaved in this way. As soon as teams could show a bounce back they were very quickly brought back on a full time basis. 

Anon 26 February 21 09:40

Yes the DACB results appear skewed, possibly by the PR team.  They certainly didn’t provide everyone with a laptop and certainly didn’t get all the IT set up. It’s a notoriously tight fisted firm. 

Also DACB and not PR either 26 February 21 09:57

err, DACB certainly did provide everyone with a laptop, and the IT set up was very impressive and quick to react.  There was (and is) a budget for people to buy kit they need, and no one was "told to work round the clock" despite being put temporarily on 0.8 fte. 

Haters gunna hate I guess 

 

Anonymous 26 February 21 10:51

Not correct about Keystone law.  They did make people redundant and they offered furlough and then withdrew it in order to announce that they were not taking Government cash.

Anonymous 26 February 21 12:32

*sigh. Keystone does not "employ" its lawyers any more than a Chambers "employs" its barristers or an old lady "employs" a cat. They cannot make them redundant, all they can do is terminate the franchise arrangement.

Anon 26 February 21 16:21

DACB impressed me too. Everyone has laptops, and everyone was entitled to reimbursement for purchased equipment or take what they needed from the office. And the ‘Not Home Alone’ site was only cringe-inducing some of the time.

Anonymous 28 February 21 00:14

What is going on here? The article mentions how some firms could only provide desktop PCs (whereas any decent firm would provide laptops as standard, pandemic or not) and yet they get top scores for reacting to Covid.

Current DACB 01 March 21 09:37

Not sure where all the comments are about "no laptops for all".  Everyone has been laptop based for many years.  If we needed a monitor or chair for home working we were allowed to collect from the office as long as we told someone, or you could buy and then expense it.  For the departments who took a pay cut for a few months, this was to help departments that were struggling so that they didn't have to make people redundant.  You were encouraged to take your non working day off, but as many DACB lawyers do, they still worked when busy so to service the clients.

As soon as it improved, they were lifted out of the pay cut and back to 100%.  It was the best way to do it to stop departments having to lose anyone.  Everyone was happy to do it, although there was no pressure for you to say yes to the pay cut.

Numerous surveys have been done over the year to ask how we are feeling about working from home and what we want to change for future office working and what we have found easy and hard.  They are taking that all into account and changing our flexible working approach going forward.  In my eyes that just shows that they want to do best by their staff and colleagues and give them the best work life balance.

Anonymous 01 March 21 13:12

Pretty surprised by the comment made by an ex employee that at DAC Beachcroft we could not claim expenses for office equipment purchased.  I have purchased equipment and been able to claim for it with no problem.  DAC Beachcroft have been excellent in supporting and looking after staff welfare since Covid-19 -  I could not wish for a better employer.

Anon 01 March 21 23:09

Dacb have been unbelievably supportive and I’ve been really impressed. The transition from office to home was almost seamless. Employees’ welfare is definitely very high on the agenda. All furlough money has been repaid and office canteen staff have been paid to feed the homeless. I’m proud to work for such a compassionate firm.

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