Feature

Law under lockdown: Junior lawyers share their home-working experiences

By on
49

Some love it, some not so much…

The continued coronavirus disruption and move to more agile ways of working can be challenging for lawyers, not least if you’re among the most junior members of the team!

With most law firms encouraging ‘facetime’ among their trainee cohorts (they’re learning the ropes, after all) working from home for what is looking like it’s going to be six months (the entire duration of a seat!) can be a daunting prospect.

Legal Cheek spoke to four rookies at different types of firm who shared their experience working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown.

While most were delighted, one was dismayed: telling us trainees are taking the brunt of heavy workloads with little to no support from seniors or development teams making it difficult for them to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Read on for more…

The magic circle rookie: little to no work/life balance

“Trainees are not being able to maintain any work/life balance at all while working from home. Trainees are waking up early in the morning to log-on to computers to be met with demand for work that does not stop until late into the night.

The lack of any working structure means that different associates choose different working schedules at home, and then dump the work on trainees whenever they need it, meaning trainees have little to no control over any sense of balance. No ability to divide the day up, or take any meaningful breaks, and this is extending through the weekend. Associates have absolutely no regard for any personal life.

Absolutely no check-ins either from the development team, or push from them to make associates be aware of trainees’ personal lives, even if it is for an hour in the evening.

Not sure how this can go on for six months.

In addition, some trainees are being required as martyrs to go into the office and to courts amidst the coronavirus lockdown with no choice being given.”

The City trainee: so far, so good

“My experience of working from home has been good so far. The firm has been very supportive and we have excellent IT capabilities to make working from home easy.

There’s no change in workload in my department and we have lots of daily calls/video conferencing with our departments to keep everyone connected.

The senior members of the firm have been so supportive of everyone.”

The 2020 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

In-house lawyer at a large global business: it hasn’t come as a huge culture shock

“At risk of coming across as smug, I haven’t experienced a significant change in my day-to-day working life as it was common for me to work an entire week or two from home before the current situation.

As a company we have a reliable and well-designed tech set-up which allows for easy virtual meetings, access to shared documents and esignatures — so as lawyers we’re able to continue to offer broadly the same level of service to the business.

Generally the business has a relatively laissez-faire approach to working styles so this hasn’t come as a huge culture shock to most in our teams. The biggest change for me personally is that now my partner is also working from home there’s a bit more shuffling around and joint diary-management needed in order to create quiet space for calls, and prior agreement needed over when to take a break and/or finish for the day. There’s probably also a moral explanation.

Clearly this is still early days and I do expect that an element of cabin fever will set in, tensions will grow and productivity will drop.”

Solicitor at full-service national firm: we’re not dossing — we’re logging what we’re doing every six minutes

“Traditionally our firm has been very reluctant and restrictive when it came to anyone working from home, and management really stuck to their guns on that policy right up to the lockdown.

Fortunately, the IT guys have managed to hold things together surprisingly well and generally those who have championed this in the past now feel vindicated.

That being said, because the partners are not used to running their teams remotely they’ve implemented daily catch-ups and team meeting calls which generally are a total waste of time. They’re clearly overcompensating because they’re terrified that we’re all dossing or in bed despite logging what we’re doing every six minutes.

The impact of this lack of experience with remote working goes beyond management style as it also means that many of the other day-to-day systems and processes that we rely upon have to be troubleshooted in an ad hoc way because this is broadly the first time someone needs to use them without being sat in the office.

All of this has certainly flagged the benefits of implementing a modern remote working policy across the firm and the vital role that would play in underpinning business continuity during a crisis or disaster.”

Struggling to cope with working from home or glad you no longer have to brave the jam-packed Tube every morning? Tell us about your #WFH experience in the comment section below.

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Newsletter

49 Comments

Concerned

I worry for trainees in busy departments at this time. Some serious wellbeing issues. Firms must step up.

(45)(3)

Associate

In respect of the first one, is it that markedly different to normal life as an MC trainee? If it is, speak to your supervisor, most will be understanding at the moment.

On the other hand, I also wouldn’t worry too much because:

(1) the pipeline is dry for most teams. Unless you’re in an employment seat, you will not be busy in a month’s time;

(2) you’re unlikely to meaningfully impress a team who will barely see you in person during the seat, no matter how much work you do. Teams after this will either hire any trainee they’ve had (disputes, employment, restructuring) or be occupied ditching their existing associates (transactional teams), normal rules won’t apply;

(3) if it is a transactional seat, there’s a fair chance few, if any, jobs will be available come qualification. When this is all over companies and banks will be focussed on replenishing their cash reserves by taking taking it steady and cutting costs, not going out and doing loads of deals.

(12)(13)

Anon

“… the pipeline is dry for most teams. Unless you’re in an employment seat, you will not be busy in a month’s time”

Clearly you have not worked in disputes. On complex arbitration you have deadlines fixed for 2-3 years ahead (even longer for construction disputes). Mine are going up to the start of 2023.

But clearly a bit harder to private equity guys, where the whole pipeline is 3-4 months on some deals (which are probably falling apart anyway now).

(25)(1)

Associate

Not since I was a trainee, but my girlfriend is (albeit IP not Construction) and her experience is clients are cancelling hearings and entering into standstills so they can focus on their company fundamentals. Presumably the thinking for each party is litigation is inherently uncertain and they’ve got enough uncertainty at the moment.

She doesn’t do any arbitration though so that could well be different.

The general view at her shop seems to be that it will be quiet during the outbreak, then explode once we’re out the other side with old cases cranking back up and new cases coming in when recriminations from Covid start. Not sure if that’s widespread (the guys I know in our Disputes team seem to be thinking broadly the same).

(8)(0)

Anon

Depends on type and stage of the dispute I assume. When you have been involved in a multi-billion dispute for 2-3 years and spent millions on it, there is no point in dropping it in the middle of the proceedings. The UK IP litigation is relatively low key (in comparison to hundreds of millions of USD in some of the US cases), makes sense for clients to drop smaller claims to cut costs.

In my field the things are getting busier with each day (which is probably good in these times).

The restructuring guys should be having good time now.

(2)(0)

Associate

Yeah, a mate who works as an insolvency practitioner at one of the big accountants was saying they’re struggling to nod and look solemn in the office wide video meetings with all the corp finance and consultancy teams included.

Then their own team meetings are just the partners and directors reminiscing about 2009 and telling the juniors how great it will be.

Jez

Brothers! Sisters!

Rebecca Long-Bailey will impose windfall taxes on City greed to pay for public services!

We need a new socialist society after the coronavirus!

Everyone earning over £29,000 will be subject to a 75% windfall tax!

Solidarity with the Muslim world! Open borders from Palestine!

VOTE LABOUR

FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW!!!!!!

(6)(43)

Jonny

Can LC just delete this shite? Repetitive nonsense.

(48)(3)

Anonymous

I was saying to the gardener, it was so lovely to move out to the family weekend place for the lock down.

(8)(2)

Anon

Really wfh for the next 6 months?!

(10)(0)

JD Trainee

I absolutely love it. This has been pretty much every single day so far:

10:00am: finally get out of bed, check workphone, sweet f-all to do and no emails from supervisor either, amazing.

10:05am: roll up a blunt, toke liberally, then throw some crap in the microwave for munchies/breakfast.

11:00am: bored out of my skull, this calls for a long, leisurely fap. Thank goodness PH now have their premium membership for free…

12:00pm: by noon still zero to do/no emails. Fire up my new gaming laptop, Call of Duty Warzone it is. Order in some dirty takeaway to keep me fueled.

3:00pm: first email arrives in my inbox, its from a fellow trainee. “Have u gt much on bru? lol doin nothin” This doesn’t even warrant a formal reply, I just message him on Whatsapp, communicating exclusively using emojis. Why use words these days.

6:00pm: bored again. This calls for another Tommy Tank.

8:00pm: ordered in some Dominos and rolled up another blunt. Life is good.

8:30pm: a few fellow JD trainees come round and we all play FIFA, laughing about the fools paying us our fat salaries for nothing.

9:00pm: even though my senses are now dulled by substantial amounts of weed, cheap beer and horse tranquilizer, I come up with a haiku poem to my fellow trainees’ delight:

“Getting paid my full second year JD trainee whack, whilst having a daily jack. This is heaven.”

(56)(7)

JDP

Top quality bantz my dear son. Pay was already drastically cut for secretaries and support staff with redundancies imminent, but good chaps like you deserve the full fee earner bonus.

(24)(0)

JD Equity P

Identify this young trailblazer. Honour him.

(8)(1)

Idiots

JD Trainee

We will see how god damn funny you are when you qualify having done nothing for months on end.

As for this
“8:30pm: a few fellow JD trainees come round and we all play FIFA, laughing about the fools paying us our fat salaries for nothing”

Did you not ynderstand what was meant when we were told not to see anyone outside out homes?

I hope you all get the virus badly. Spend the fat salary on your funeral costs

(3)(22)

JD Trainee

How about you play wit my choad bruv lmao

(6)(2)

Anon

Things like this are exactly why applicants should have criteria other than that the firm is in the Magic Circle.

(8)(6)

Anon

The US firms will be alright in this I presume? Super profitable should have a good enough balance sheet to see it through?

(3)(6)

Chinny

Lmao wishful thinking, just you wait. Profitable or not, they’re the kind of turbokhunt outfits who will boot off junior associates at the drop of a hat, especially those who haven’t been around for longer than two years. My money is especially on those US firms in the City that haven’t got a trainee scheme in place. Anyone below 3PQE better pray to the Almight right now.

(17)(3)

Anon

I think senior associates may be in bigger danger (at least those who do not have their own clients) – they are too expensive to do most of client work and, in most of cases, can be replaced with mid-levels without a significant drop in work quality.

Not sure what happened in the UK in 2008 (was not living here then) but in my country most of the US firms just fired everyone above 3 PQE leaving mostly partners and juniors.

(5)(2)

Anon

That’s absolute horsecock right there, juniors are first in the firing line.

(2)(3)

Anon

Again, this (complete wipe out of senior associate level, with partners and juniors left behind) is what happened in the US firms’ offices in other countries in 2008.

But have no idea what happened in the UK in 2008, to be honest. It could be unique and different from other markets.

Random passer-by

NQs and junior associates are the easiest to get rid of and the easiest to replace. They will get chopped. Any senior associate without their own client base will get chopped. Partners that have under performed for years will get chopped. There will not be much M&A, PE, Funds, Banking work for a long time. Anyone who qualified into oil and gas is in for a crappy career. Private practice firms pay the most, so they will cut fast and wide. US firms will be the worst. Any 28 year old who has been earning £100k plus a year and therefore renting out an apartment in Shoreditch or Angel will have to move home soon and pray their landlord doesn’t screw them. Same goes for anyone who took a massive mortgage. It is important to save, and live very comfortably within your means.

(15)(6)

Random passer-by

I should add, any junior that survives this will have a path to partnership laid out for them. They will be in big demand in 2-3-4 years time. Such is life, and how fortunes are made and lost.

I only ask

“There will not be much M&A, PE, Funds, Banking work for a long time” – what is this based on? I’m not accusing you of lying, just genuinely interested.

1yearPQE

Juniors are always the first to go. Sorry.

(6)(0)

Anon

How many years pqe to be classes as junior?

Anonymous

20 years PQE. At least.

International associate

Firms will, assuming job cuts are inevitable, obviously not just look at PQE. And yes, senior associates are more expensive, but they can handle a lot more work on their own and can therefore be more efficient than having a pool of very junior associates.

They’re also harder to replace when things pick-up.

A lot of senior associates – myself included – would be willing to take a salary cut in order to be kept on. I’m not on the same money as some at the leading US firms, but I could easily take a £40K-£50K hit without it really impacting my life. More if necessary.

My thinking is that the process will be as follows:

– recruitment frozen aside from strategic hires
– pausing of partner distributions
– reduction in hours and a corresponding cut in pay across the board
– free-standing pay-cuts of up to 25%
– utilization of the government’s furlough scheme
– under-performing partners (salary first then equity) given a month or two to improve (which will be impossible)
– partners near retirement age given the opportunity to leave or become consultants
– surplus business and support staff eventually made redundant
– re-allocation of associates with capacity to counter-cyclical teams
– voluntary redundancy for associates who simply can’t be utilised elsewhere

(6)(0)

Anon (same Anon)

Agree, hopefully it will all happen as you describe (also does not make any sense to cut down just juniors or seniors – both will create problems in a couple of years when the firms are swamped with new work),

I do not think that the vipe out seniors strategy worked out particularly well in 2008 (again I am not sure if it was limited to the offices in the developing countries or the UK as well). Just said that the US firms have done this before.

Senior US associate

Re the first comment, I agree how is this different to a normal working day in the office pre-lockdown? A big part of being a trainee is learning how to prioritise, learning how different people have different working styles, how to be efficient and what matters and when. You also need to learn when to say yes and when you can say no and how to manage your supervisor’s expectations of you. It’s not surprising this comment has come from a trainee but when in the office, are you saying none of the above happens? I think for most people in decent firms not much has changed to be honest other than people are now working remotely full time. Timesheets quickly show who is and who isn’t working.

I was recording 11hours billable every day last week but I didn’t speak to the partners in my team once. I didn’t need to. Generally people who work at top firms are self motivated and are not going to slack off at the first opportunity. Hopefully all of this will show the more old school and rigid firms that this is exactly the way forward. Then they can cut down their giant flashy offices and maybe save a bit more money.

(11)(6)

Second Seat Trainee

I’ll tell you how it’s different.

1) When you’re going into the office, you have your commute which allows for (some) downtime where you’re underground and unreachable. For many it’s a time to read or catch-up on a podcast. This doesn’t happen when you’re WFH. There is no factored in ‘commute time’.

2) When you’re in the office, you can at the very least, grab some lunch outside and head back in (even if for five/ten minutes). There is no ‘going outside to grab lunch’ now. You go to your kitchen and up again.

3) The lack of face-to-face social interaction means that tone can get easily misconstrued, things can seem more urgent or ‘life-threatening’ than they really are and everyone can get unnecessarily stressed over things they wouldn’t – if we were in physical proximity.

It’s got nothing to do with ‘working hard’ and being a ‘self-starter’. This set-up is difficult for many, and we’re all feeling it.

(20)(0)

US senior associate

I think you have missed the point and again, probably the inexperience of being a trainee (which everyone goes through). There is nothing stopping you taking 10mins out to make a coffee in your apartment or watching TV for 45mins at lunch or having a nap for half an hour in the afternoon. In fact it’s probably easier as nobody can see you doing this at home. Just because you work at home doesn’t mean you have to be online 24/7. If you normally start at 09:30am after a 45min commute then adopt the same practice at home. The fact you don’t have a commute gives you even more you time. If you leave at 18:30 and come back online at 20:00 when in the office, again do the same at home. The first time people work at home they generally assume they need to log on at he crack of dawn and be seem to be working all night. This just isn’t the case. Your recorded hours speak for themselves. Just work the same pattern as if you were in the office. If you have an issue then raise it with your supervisor.

(7)(6)

Archibald Pomp O'City

Like fuck you work for a US company.

(1)(2)

Legal expert

If there is a work to be done, they’ll need as many lawyers as they get. Some US firms have very strong restructuring and disputes practices, and since US firms are known for being very profitable, I think quite a few will fare quite well.

(3)(3)

My view

The problem with MC firms there’s just so many of you guys: trainees, associates, partners. I would think the practicalities of one-to-one supervision of each trainee, whilst dealing with wfh, stressed clients and unpredictable deals would be quite hard in the grand scheme of things.

(8)(0)

Kelly

I’ve written this anonymously because I don’t want any of our trainees to get online abuse or bullying. But I am really worried about some of them, especially the male ones. I’ve tried to call some of them on a few occasions and have had difficulty getting through to them but when I have managed to, Ive noticed that they seemed startled and sometimes a little out of breath. On one occasion, just shortly after answering the phone, I heard what was very clearly pornographic sounds in the background. In another call I could hear quite clearly rustling sounds- which continued while he was still speaking to me! I’m obviously worried for their health and it’s inportant they stay at home, but I’m also concerned for their moral wellbeing which certainly appears to be at risk!

(15)(3)

Sandy from Accounts

I had the same experience just this morning, Kelly!

(5)(1)

Archibald Pomp O'City

Try calling half an hour before Joe Wicks’ podcast, Kelly. They will be breathing normally at that time.

(0)(0)

Anon

Who’s first for the chop then? NQ’s? How will tax lawyers fare?

(1)(0)

US Trainee

Worked till 5am in my childhood bedroom last night- firm really looking out for our wellbeing…

(7)(0)

Archibald Pomp O'City

My heart bleeds.

(0)(0)

Associate

Transactional seats will be quiet over the next couple of months… but expect a massive pick-up in a few months time as firms spot “buying opportunities”. Same thing happened after the financial crisis.

(9)(1)

Anon

What? Transactional work depends on clients finding opportunities, not law firms.

(0)(1)

Anon

Why do you insist this is true when prior experience of the 2008 crisis suggests it is not the case? juniors are the cheapest fee earners aside from trainees (and juniors can handle much more than trainees independently)

(5)(0)

Dr M. A. Sturbator, CFA MBA

Lmao Norton Rose Fulbright have now introduced a four-day workweek. It’s already begun dear friends.

(8)(0)

Anon

Same strategy as they deployed in 2008

(1)(0)

Second Seat Trainee

WFH has been… interesting.

Emails and demands are coming in hard and fast. At the very least when in the office – you can jump up to grab lunch or a coffee, so people can physically see you’re not there.

Now the expectation is that you’re always ‘on’ and reachable. I wasn’t going to take annual leave whilst this WFH was going on because I assumed it would be pointless (nowhere to go etc). Now I’m desperate to take a few days because working seven days, solidly, for the last three weeks is starting to take its toll…

(16)(0)

No one

I’m a fourth-seater and my firm is planning to start preparing us all for qualification in Summer — i.e. with 0-1 months to prepare and search for jobs in the firm, as opposed for the usual 2-3 months. Added to the stress of the ridiculous expectation that trainees are available 24/7 (because we’re at home and have access to the system at all times, amirite?) and flurry of emails and skype chats and general lack of structure, it’s really getting us all down. I’ve never wanted to be in the office more than I have now.

(2)(1)

Comments are closed.

Related Stories