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Wealthy partners work from home while lowest paid staff are forced into the office, legal union claims

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Legal Sector Workers United brands pandemic response a ‘classist allocation of risk’

Wealthy law firm partners are working from the comfort and relative safety of their own homes while lower paid staff are being forced to come into the office, a trade union branch for legal sector workers claims.

The Legal Sector Workers Union (LSWU) — which represents qualified solicitors and barristers, as well as paralegals, secretaries and cleaners — says it has identified a “shocking divide” in the treatment of law firm staff in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a series of tweets overnight, the group wrote: “We have been forensically mapping law firms’ responses to COVID-19 across the legal sector. A shocking divide is evident: wealthy partners are working from home, while the lowest paid, most precarious staff are being forced to come into the office.”

It added:

“This is an outrage. We are organising against this classist allocation of risk, which is an abuse of legal sector workers. If your bosses are sending you to work when you could be working from home, join LSWU without delay. We will support you immediately in making your demands.”

In an earlier tweet, the LSWU said one of its members, a trainee at a large legal aid firm, had recently walked out of a meeting that their employer was trying to make them attend. “No sanction was imposed”, it continued, but “if you’re a LSWU member and reasonably decide to take your and others’ safety into your own hands, we’ll back you.”

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The claims follow the group’s open letter (below) earlier this week to employers of the legal sector, demanding that they taken action on the COVID-19 pandemic in a way which “prioritises the wellbeing of employees” as a matter of urgency that takes “precedence over short-termist economic interests”.

It says all legal sector workers should be encouraged to work from home, receive full pay if they’re sent home (sick or not), as well as full transparency when communicating with staff about COVID-19 policy.

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35 Comments

BJ

The plebs are expendable.

(13)(15)

K&E Phatcat

Lmaoooo i kno rite ?!

(2)(5)

Anonymous

section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, states that in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believes to be serious and imminent, they leave or refuse to return to work.

(8)(0)

tony woodruff

what about supermarket staff who earn minimum wages,flexi contracts and are lucky to earn £10k per year, we are forced to work, same as nhs staff only xifference is they earn 4 to 5 times what we earn.

(2)(0)

Realistic Lawyer

It’s not about hierarchy? It’s about whether a secretary or paralegal has ever needed to work from home out of hours meaning they haven’t got the facility to do so now…? Most may work extra hours at the office but wouldn’t necessarily be expected to login at the weekend as a partner might (they just deal with multiple emails on Monday morning!) so they won’t have the facilities to work from home….? At the moment we have an issue with licences for people to use to login from home where they don’t have a work laptop or any computer they can use at home. (Surprisingly a large amount, even recently graduated paralegals?) I think it’s unfair to force them to come in, but in fairness I think if most others are WFH then the office is empty enough to not be a risk. Having said that at my own firm, the senior partners and HODs are still coming in because of this to stop the support staff being made to come in alone. I’m also currently at the office on lunch, despite having WFH abilities, client care and all that!

(9)(31)

Veritatis Certum 19

You are literally the problem.

“Client care and all that”. What sort of client care are you going to be giving when the economy grinds to a halt because people like you didn’t follow guidance?

You can be carrying this thing for 5 days before you have symptoms so how many people have you been in contact with in the last 5 days? How many people have they?

This is going to be the worst thing to happen to the world since WWII. It’s going to be that bad. The only way to lessen it is for people who can to STAY AT HOME.

Care for your clients by not infecting them and their family with the most contagious illness the world has seen in over 100 years.

(65)(7)

Anonymous

Shocking that so many legal offices are still open.

It’s not about catching the virus – it’s about passing it on to others who are likely to die from it.

Can’t believe this has to be explained to grown adults.

(69)(2)

Someone who cares about others

This is a pathetic excuse. I’m a paralegal and I regularly work from home at a large regional firm. This has nothing to do with facilities to work from home or the seniority of the role. Safety first. It’s to do with the disgusting profit hungry culture that is thriving at law firms. Junior legal staff are constantly trying to prove they are working hard and they SHOULD NOT have to prove that by going into the office when people are DYING.

(32)(2)

Anonymous

Free Representation Unit still open as well.

I guess volunteer law students are expendable too?

(63)(1)

Jez

You bet.

Free labour, paying for the privilege through student loans for CV points.

(4)(2)

Veritatis Certum 19

The key word is “volunteer” isn’t it? Frankly anyone doing anything which is anything bit vital for the next three months is just a selfish moron.

(1)(3)

Anonymous

There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on BPTC students to ‘volunteer’ at FRU. They are effectively told by every guide going that no chambers will look at their application unless they help there.

Absolutely shocking that the office is still open when so many people have died from this virus.

(50)(1)

Veritatis Certum 19

As i said anyone doing anything which is anything but vital for the next three months including VOLUNTARY legal work is a selfish moron.

(1)(2)

Anonymous

Of course the office is still open.

How else will barristers be able to bully and sexually harass FRU volunteers if they are kept at home?

(36)(0)

anon

Some of the legal work FRU covers is vital. Just because the majority of commenters on here can run home to mummy and daddy doesn’t mean everyone one else can. The people served by FRU still desperately need advocates to help them. That work doesn’t stop. Of course, it should be done as remotely as possible but they still need help.

(1)(14)

FRU Volunteer

We volunteer there and know how much people need us – that’s why we do it.

However, this does not mean we are martyrs who ought to put up with platitudes and management-speak when 144 people are dead, as the tip of the iceberg.

I have no idea why the office is still open or how many people have touched the files and books we have all touched in the office. No communications on how anything is cleaned. Given the amount of materials shared and the number of clients, I wouldn’t be surprised if a coronavirus case was confirmed there.

Stating my concerns for containing this pandemic and my worry that the office is still open doesn’t mean I don’t care for my clients.

(23)(0)

David Abbott, FRU Chief Exec

Hello, just to reiterate; the FRU service is being delivered to our existing clients but in a different way. The FRU office is not ‘open’ in the normal way. No volunteers are working in the office. No staff are working in the office, just calling in to deal with essentials and not every day. No volunteers have been asked to collect post from the office. All volunteers are in touch with our legal staff by phone and email to arrange support. Anyone with any questions or concerns about any of this can message me and I’ll happily have a chat with them. chief.exec@thefru.org.uk. Anyone who is currently a volunteer will be well aware of all this.

FRU Volunteer

Notice how the CEO says absolutely nothing about how the office is sanitised with hundreds of people currently handling the same law books, keyboards and files.

He’s also moved from saying yesterday that there are minimal staff in an open office to claiming that staff aren’t even there everyday. So with an incubation period of 14 days, we’re suddenly all safe now?

Shambles.

David Abbott, FRU Chief Exec

FRU has paused taking on new cases. Just like any provider of legal services we have our professional obligations to those clients who we were already acting for. Volunteers are being supported remotely and most staff are working from home. No volunteer is being obliged to continue volunteering, and we will manage any situation where the volunteer needs to withdraw from the case. Our volunteers, referral agencies and clients understand our position, which is clearly set out here http://www.thefru.org.uk/news/update-frus-response-coronavirus.

(4)(50)

FRU Volunteer

This isn’t good good enough David. This virus is killing people. It poses a real risk to volunteers with elderly parents and underlying health issues.

You should be forwarding volunteers their post to their homes and not encouraging them to come into the office to collect it.

There is absolutely no reason why there should be any volunteers coming into the office at all.

Please don’t tell me I will be comprising my clients’ case and could be reported to the BSB if I won’t come in to collect my post when my Dad is a diabetic with heart stents.

(48)(0)

David Abbott, FRU Chief Exec

We have been in contact with every volunteer who has an active case, to discuss how we can support them. To my knowledge no-one has been in to the office to collect post, nor been requested to do so, we can make alternative arrangements to manage the situation.

Anyone who has any concerns about their position, or who is not able to continue with their case can contact me on chief.exec@thefru.org.uk and we will manage the situation between us without any difficulty.

(3)(28)

FRU Volunteer

So you’re going to take people’s cases off them and hand them over to other people, in spite of what clients may want? How nice of you.

You haven’t answered the question David – why is the FRU office presently open to volunteers?

Anon

This to me reads like manipulative gobbledygook where appeals to policies you couldn’t possibly change and claims of ‘professional obligations to the clients’ (in an office with no qualified lawyers) is being used to justify any sort of treatment towards volunteers.

(32)(0)

David Abbott, FRU Chief Exec

I’m not sure what you mean by ‘any sort of treatment’ to volunteers. We’ve been in continual contact with volunteers and have worked with them to plan how their case can be concluded safely. Please contact me on chief.exec@thefru.org.uk to talk about any concerns you have. We’re committed to the best interests of our clients and between us will meet the obligations we’ve signed up to, while tribunals are still taking place and we have staff and volunteers to represent our clients.

(2)(20)

FRU Volunteer

Why are you are keeping the office open? Given the scientific evidence, it should have been closed ages ago.

I don’t feel safe given the fact I have elderly parents. Now I’m being told that my cases will be taken away from me if I complain about how poorly FRU is handling this.

Anonymous

Be careful @FRUVolunteer, the charity has kicked volunteers out after making complaints. Don’t write to the CEO. You will then be told the Management Committee behind closed doors have decided to kick you out because the ‘relationship has broken down’ and you can’t appeal.

When that happens, there might be no-one to prepare your clients’ case. And no food banks either from the looks of it.

Anonymous

This screams DWF …

(4)(1)

Anonymous

“Wealthy” partners at DWF? Don’t you need to be able to bill more than £350 an hour at 10PQE in order to accumulate wealth in London? Tragic.

Anyways, I know a few people at smaller London outposts of American BigLaw where the partnership is all former magic circle. They’re all shacked up in their Kent and Sussex orchards or Henley victorian terraces whilst the paralegals et al continue to commute to the office.

Bill baby bill.

(4)(0)

unfortunate truth

Until all organisations correspond by email, and “post” ceases to exist, then someone is going to need to be at an office to deal with it, whether that’s Partners or junior staff.

Until robots are programmed to do this, its a necessary part of being a law firm who wants to be in business when this is all done.

(3)(0)

Daf

I know that Thompson’s are forcing their staff into the office rather than allowing them to work remotely from home. Incredibly, they still only have paper files. They know more than most that they owe their workers a duty of care not to expose them to unnecessary risks. It’s horrible hypocrisy.

(13)(0)

Partner priorities

They must think we’re idiots – anyone can see through their thinly veiled message ‘oh yeah stay safe everyone, try not to spread this serious virus or anything, but don’t forget about billing, targets, money money money’. It’s disgusting.

(13)(0)

Eck Witty

So you are happy not to get paid then?

(0)(0)

4PQE

Lower my targets 20%, lower my pay 20%. Cheers.

(3)(0)

robbie burns

I work for a large London law firm. the vast majority of staff have been given the instruction to work from home. as I speak my team of 10 support staff, 6 or so IT and a few HR staff are all here to support a hand full of paralegals. the suggestion that keeping a presence in the office for client well being makes no sense. the people who are unable to work from home (support staff mainly) have been told that if they have nothing to do then they can tidy up. “this is not a free holiday” The partnership doesn’t want to pay for people to “idly sit at home” so instead it’s telling them that they must come to the office and clean up other peoples mess while people at home fire off emails to peers expressing how difficult it is working form home when the kids are here. Its a disgrace.

(6)(0)

J

And I bet half of them will claim the government grant

(2)(0)

Comments are closed.

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