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."
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."