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Will success of home-working prompt firms to rethink their plush City offices?

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Pandemic puts question mark over corporate law’s love-affair with swanky spaces

100 Bishopsgate, London (image credit: Buildington)

The global pandemic has forced City law firms to rethink how they operate.

Having embraced video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype, City outfits have attempted to bring an air of ‘keep calm, and carry on’ as they grapple with a financial headache reminiscent of the 2008 crash.

But will the adoption of remote working practices in response to the lockdown spark a wider change across the industry?

Global law firms are renowned for their plush offices. From marble-clad client areas to private penthouse-style pools, the trappings of life as a City lawyer can be — and are — a major pull for any young training contract hunter.

@legalcheek

..then back to work 😒 ##fyp ##foryoupage ##law ##lawyer ##lawyerlife ##lawfirm ##office ##london ##city ##elevator ##lift ##lockdown ##citylockdown ##covid19

♬ Glamorous – Union Of Sound

In recent weeks, however, lawyers have been forced to abandon these lavish set-ups in favour of their dining room tables, studies, gardens and even their childhood bedrooms. The so-called ‘boomerangers’ as The Times today described those flocking back home to mum and dad amid the pandemic.

And this transition, on the whole, appears to have been fairly smooth, with social media awash with snaps of lawyers embracing their love for home-working. “My experience of working from home has been good so far,” one City trainee told us recently. “The firm has been very supportive and we have excellent IT capabilities to make working from home easy.”

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So could this spell the start of the end for swanky City spaces? It’s probably too early to say. But the relative ease in which lawyers have made the switch, coupled with the wider, long-term financial implications of the pandemic, will likely leave many law firms questioning their office space requirements in the years ahead.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that some City players, who announced big office moves pre-pandemic, are facing a sweat as to whether these will go ahead on time.

Freshfields, for example, is due to relocate to City skyscraper 100 Bishopsgate this summer. The magic circle player is now “anticipating a delay due to the lockdown”, the FT reports.

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner is “braced for a delay” to its switch to office space near Cannon Street, according to report. A spokesperson for the firm said: “Work continues on our new office and we will be moving in the spring.”

Elsewhere, US duo Cooley and Fried Frank are also said to be facing potential delays to their City moves.

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27 Comments

Tommy C (BPTC, LLB, non-practicing)

Who on Earth keeps writing these puerile shet no-news articles?

Oh, right, it’s little Tommy, never mind then.

(42)(19)

Trainee

Why are you on LegalCheek then? If you hate this website and it’s employees so much, why are consuming its free content?

Does abusing people and calling them “little” behind your veil of internet anonymity make you feel superior? Why don’t you post content under your real professional name so we call all abuse you instead? Insecure prick.

(57)(41)

Lmaobantah

Hello Tommy, nice of you to join us here.

(12)(13)

Trainee

I’m the Trainee who commented above who happens to work at one of the “plush offices” mentioned in the article. (Hint: the one with the penthouse-style pool).

Sure, the articles here tend to be tongue-in-cheek but Thomas is discussing a legitimate point about the shift in mentality which COVID will have on working patterns. I’m looking forward to junior members of staff being able to work evenings at home without being judged in the same way. Businesses that have the option of renewing leases will think about obvious cost savings. Employees will want to save on commute costs and time. I would like to see the housing market adjust accordingly.

If you think this is “puerile shet no-news articles” then you’re an ignorant abusive troll with nothing to contribute here. Thomas – please ignore the insecure internet trolls and keeping writing articles like this (its better than the ones focused on social media).

(42)(21)

Topkek

Hi Tommy, awesome stuff that you’re now also a trainee!

(9)(11)

Thomas

Thanks Mum

(0)(0)

Anon

If you don’t like trolls you’re on the wrong site son

(10)(1)

Trainee

I don’t mind trolls. Trolls can sometimes be funny, poke fun in a relevant way or be on point.

Calling Thomas “little Tommy”, however, is not trolling in any way. It’s not clever. It’s doesn’t get any laughs. It’s a crude witless insult. Its bullying, end of, and it makes the poster look like a sniveling, pathetic loser.

Disgruntled

Here’s a real world answer:

Working from home only works well if you are responsive enough to emulate being in an office, or the work you are doing relies solely on you in the immediate phase.

Otherwise time is wasted getting hold of people, emails from clients get missed, and money is ultimately lost.

While I am otherwise sympathetic about evening working, unless you can pick up the phone or see that urgent email as soon as something comes in and deal with it, people are going to look dimly on WFH (evening or otherwise) as a long term sustainable measure.

(3)(21)

Anonymous

I can phone and email from home. That’s the whole point.

Barbara

There is no reason to emulate being in an office because offices are not set up for ideal working conditions. They’re set up to meet a century-old social model.

I can arrange for my watch to notify me when an urgent email comes in. So why do I need to be chained to a desk and computer waiting for emails?

Associate

Leases are a massive overhead for some firms.

A partner I work with said there’d been talk of a “hub and spoke” at our place, with a City office containing all the client meeting rooms and some working floors supplemented by working offices in Reading, High Wycombe, Guildford, St Albans etc.

I’d be happy with that. Permanent WFH I’d find a bit much even as a Senior Associate with some space to work in. As a junior living with flat mates I’d have loathed it. But, that would save firms the most money so I’m sure some will go that way.

(10)(2)

In-house pleb

The reality though is that as a senior private practice lawyer, you have so many client meetings, you need to be in the office almost every day. I think a paying client will still want to press the flesh and see you suited in person before forking over any cash. The juniors doing the grunt work could do it from home, but then they need to be watched. They cannot be trusted to stay at home 4 days a week to work.

As an in-house lawyer, I could probably work from home 2-3 days a week, and I think this crisis will make that more acceptable. In terms of private practice, only the more enlightened firms will embrace this change. However as a trainee above said, firms should become more sympathetic to juniors going home at 6pm to log in and work from home. What it means though is longer working hours. I probably think about work now more than I did when I went to the office.

(14)(2)

Associate

I think it depends on your team.

I’m in Employment and probably do a couple of client meetings a week.

On the corporate support stuff we mainly act for sponsors, and the private equity bods only really want to meet the corporate guys, they’re not bothered about meeting all the assorted supporting teams unless a massive issue gets thrown up in that particular area.

On the tribunal stuff, it tends to be C-Suite level disputes with 4 or 5 big cases on at once. The clients usually want an initial face to face and then sporadic meetings ahead of hearings, for witness statements etc.

Obviously there’s all the BD stuff, but increasingly we do that at client’s offices as everyone’s bricking it about ABC.

(7)(0)

anonymouse

If your juniors can’t be trusted to work from home then you are hiring some pretty shite people.

(0)(3)

Human nature called

He’s confused why you don’t understand him?

(0)(1)

In-house pleb

If you think a 2 pqe can be left to work from home 5 days you are clearly a child and a muppet at that. It isn’t just about sitting at a desk for 14 hours producing stuff. They need to be able to pop over to people’s desks to ask questions, get people to look at stuff quickly, get advice on how to do things and learn from watching other people. Sitting at your desk doing stuff, churning out documents and then arranging meetings on Zoom every once in a while to discuss something is not good for a junior (0-4pqe), and I wouldn’t trust the quality of output to be as high as in office tbh.

(5)(0)

Tom

Yes, I’m sure they’ll all just walk away from their existing leases! Or they’ll sublet to all of the non-existent businesses seeking commercial properties in the City 🤦🏻‍♂️

(15)(2)

Associate with a bucket of grit

In my experience most partners are absolute control freaks who want associates at their beck and call. To them that means physically near them, sat in a dark dingy office, not remote. It’s down to a combination of control, the need to feel important (harder when you don’t have a legion of minions in sight), habit/a wish to avoid being at home with a family they barely know & a underlying mistrust of their team to not all just slack/skive off if they aren’t in the office.

There is more chance of hell freezing over than the partners in my team meaningfully supporting working from home more than one day a week. It’ll take the next generous to shift it.

(23)(0)

Anonymous

I wish I had the time to slack. The to-do list is never ending, I don’t know how they could think we are slacking when they give us loads of stuff to do and impose strict deadlines.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Oh, bless, do you want a hug now you find out that a jackpot pyramid business structure is tough at the bottom?

(0)(6)

@BigBarristersTwitterDiarrhea

My chambers are within a lovely Georgian townhouse. WFH will never, ever catch on for barristers.

I have my own room in chambers to display my Sixth Form debating prizes. My name is also next to the front door, so I know which townhouse to enter and that the council’s street sweepers know I’m a barrister too.

It secretly makes me feel sexy and important to know that I work in a building that’s much prettier than the concrete nightmare my school pals probably work in. And the lowly solicitors I’m forced to deal with.

I am a good person, because I give 20 minutes of my billable time each year to help orphans in Ilford.

Please like all my Twitter posts?

(38)(2)

Codger

Excellent stuff old boy, more of this please.

(2)(1)

@BigBarristersTwitterDiarrhea

Whilst I could never dream of studying Aeronautical Engineering at MIT, speaking fluent Mandarin or knowing how to set a broken bone, my chambers only takes the absolutely academic best of the very best.

This is because we are the best. We want clients to know academics are everything, and we really do demand the best.

I’m afraid who says otherwise wouldn’t be able to cut it at the Bar. They just aren’t the best.

It’s a pity my son was thrown out of boarding school for smoking weed. Criminal Bar it’ll have to be then…

(20)(1)

Steven Seagull

Working from home should become the new default position. If people want or need to come to the office fine, but it shouldn’t be a requirement.

The time and money saved (no commuting, no massive train fares etc) makes working from home a far more efficient proposition.

Add to that that there is evidence to show that productivity actually goes up when working from home – so businesses will get more bang for their buck out of employees as well!

(5)(4)

Anonymous

No shade to the poster above but may I just say, “bang for your buck” and “one stop shop” are two phrases in the English language that need to die asap.

(2)(2)

Anon

Yes, that’s no way to speak about sugar babies

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.

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