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Home-working: 3 out of 4 solicitors experiencing feelings of isolation and lack of motivation

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Cracks beginning to show in WFH model, particularly among juniors, report finds

The move to more agile ways of working amidst the coronavirus pandemic has led many solicitors to experience feelings of isolation and a lack of motivation.

In fact, three out of four solicitors are experiencing feelings as such, which has risen sharply since the onset of the pandemic, and particularly among junior lawyers, with a lack of management direction and supervision increasing issues.

This was one of the key findings published by LexisNexis in its latest Bellwether Report. It builds on the first report, published over the summer, which surveyed the effect of coronavirus on the legal industry in the weeks after the first lockdown was imposed.

The autumn report is compiled based on the responses of 120 solicitors from a variety of firms with 21 or fewer fee-earners, and half of whom had a decision-making role.

The study cites three main coronavirus-related concerns: the impact on staff morale and wellbeing (58%) — especially for those firms with six or more fee-earners; maintaining a client base for the future (34%); and the impact on efficiency (25%). Further, 46% of respondents said miscommunication or insufficient communication was a growing problem for home-working staff.

Though a majority found their working hours more flexible, a third said they were working longer hours, while stress had worsened for 45% of respondents. Overall, 43% said their morale and wellbeing was worse, and only 13% said it was better.

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Yet, though the report brings question to a long-term shift towards remote working, it found most lawyers want it to continue in some form post-COVID. Almost two-thirds (65%) of solicitors would like to work from home long-term, mainly part-time, with most (69%) saying their work quality had either stayed the same or improved since shifting to home-working.

“The initial excitement of home-working has clearly worn off,” Marin Daley, small law lead at LexisNexis told Legal Cheek. “Whilst the benefits of a more flexible work life are still valued and desired, without colleagues around them for advice and support — lawyers are starting to feel the strain. It is so important that home-workers have access to the tools they need to work effectively.”

LawCare chief Elizabeth Rimmer echoed Daley’s concerns. She said the findings in the report largely align with the mental health charity’s experience during the pandemic. “The number one reason people are turning to us for support with living and working during the pandemic is the deterioration in their mental health with social isolation being a key reason for this,” she said, adding:

“The flexibility of home-working can bring great benefits but the regular day-to-day social interactions with colleagues is missed by many of us — the informal checking in, the chit chat, the five minutes to run something past a colleague; and this is particularly tough for those that live on their own. It is challenging to keep team spirits up and maintain good communication when we can’t see each other in person.”

Today’s findings contrast with those revealed by LexisNexis in July. It found at the time that the public health crisis had brought about a wellbeing change within the legal industry, with almost half of respondents reporting that they saw a greater focus on their mental health in the wake of home-working. However, the report also found that feelings of isolation, particularly among juniors, were of paramount concern.

If you are struggling and in need of support, you can reach out to LawCare. LawCare promotes and supports good mental health and wellbeing in the legal community. Help LawCare understand how legal practice and workplace culture affect wellbeing by taking part in their ‘Life in the Law’ research project.

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18 Comments

Taller

Not really that surprising

(12)(1)

Anton

Can anyone recommend a good Encopresis Awareness course?

(0)(0)

David

I am going insane being in a room/flat by myself all day. I found myself talking to myself (literally, a proper conversation) whilst tidying the kitchen earlier. I had a bath and took my laptop just for a change of scenery. I go to the corner shop and buy stuff I don’t need just to interact with the shop keeper. I have so many fizzy drinks, sweets, crisps, biscuits and crackers stockpiled.

I’ll go to the park around 11am for some fresh air. I feed the pigeons, I sometimes feed the sparrows too. It gives me a sense of enormous well-being.

The only good thing about working from home is that I tend to have more freedom and flexibility over my hours. I get up when I want, except for Wednesdays when I get rudely awakened by the dustmen.

Work from home life sucks.

(50)(3)

FlourPour

It’ll get better after lockdown when firms adopt a 60/40 model. Don’t write off wfh as a whole because of this awful experience.

(9)(4)

David

I’d prefer 80/20, but 60/40 would do. A good thing about fewer people would mean there wouldn’t be all the people on the tube at once. So many people. However, what I don’t like is the idea of people rocking up just once or twice a week because it wouldn’t be the same.

(6)(1)

Anonymous

Well played. This comment really knocked it out of the Park

(3)(0)

Hand-in-hand

It’s got nothing to do with Vorsprung durch technique, you know.

(1)(0)

John

I’ve taken to drinking heavily to get through lockdown. I’m worried it’s starting ton affect my sexual potency.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

We don’t worry about pure hypotheticals.

Abcde

I’ve found the last few weeks particularly dark personally. Its been a struggle to get up in the morning. I like the idea of work from home but I definitely miss being in the office sometimes, especially as a trainee trying to step up to NQ level.

I think the structures that work (sort of) for law firms in the office just do not translate well to wfh. In particular, chaotic work assignment practices, lack of guidance/isolated working styles, poor team structure – these just lead to so much trouble when you’re also trying to work alone in your bedroom. The whole experience has honestly made me question whether I’m cut out for law at all, and my feelings toward my firm. I very much feel junior staff have been hung out to dry, lots of stealth layoffs/poor retention rates hidden under FTCs etc. Morale is as low as it gets.

(18)(0)

Roland

Well if it helps at all I am 4PQE and feel the same way and have also questioned whether I am cut out for the job. That said, from my experience and conversations with peers it is probably fair to say that nobody truly knows exactly what they are doing and part of it is about muddling through. As you correctly point out, that just feels more of a challenge and becomes more difficult if you are in a room all by yourself.

(7)(0)

JamH

I think we will find winter makes WFH significantly tougher, especially for people living alone.

(11)(0)

LegalEagle

I am getting v bored of constant wfh – been 9 months now (and I speak as someone 8 years PQE who has a decent sized house and dedicated space to work in). Getting very tedious particularly in winter when it’s easy to spend all day at desk without going outside in daylight. Client demands haven’t decreased and the lack of commute (I did it by bike) means time now has to be found for exercise and getting out of the house.

My employer did partially reopen the office in the autumn but it was such a hassle to go in (eg: having to only go in on a particular day, booking a desk, having to wear facemasks when away from hot-desk, having to take in your own coffee mug etc…) i haven’t done so thus far.

agree with what others have said re lack of distinction between home and work life now. the positives have been seeing more of family and being able to be home for those small things (eg: spouse wanting to pop to an appointment and not take kids with them). But I am looking forward to having more of a choice / mix when it returns.

finally, to those who live alone complaining of being lonely – that is a concern but it’s also not great trying to focus on work with young kids around, who don’t tend to understand that when a parent is focussing on work they should not be disturbed if possible (adults tend to be better at reading those moments). I sometimes envy the uninterrupted focus that those living alone / without children must have these days.

swings and roundabouts…

(3)(24)

Damon Albarn

“I’ll go to the park around 11am for some fresh air. I feed the pigeons, I sometimes feed the sparrows too. It gives me a sense of enormous well-being.”

PARKLIFE

(2)(0)

Disenfranchised, disenchanted.

Training Contract? No structure, no support and no real training opportunities when you’re alone.

It’s everything I’d imagined when it turned out nobody would be in the office and everything is WFH.

(4)(0)

Who? What?

Well TCs have always been a bit of a horrible ordeal in most firms anyways, wfh hasn’t made that any better. But look at it this way-at least you’re still employed!! Thousands of juniors have been furloughed for 6 months and then all laid off in and around September/October. Chances of getting a job, after you’ve been out of it for the biggeat part of the year by now are so slim that it trully makes people depressed (considering the time and money wasted getting to that NQ/junior level). Let’s face it, no law firm trully ever cares about you, a career in law is very much about how much you’re willing to sacrifice for a bigger paycheck….

(5)(0)

Anon

I have retreated to the guesthouse at my parents’ country place, shooting squirrels that venture near the lawn through the window next to my desk. Now the squirrels are in nut burying mode they are too easy to shoot, so even that pasttime is becoming a bore. Luckily, the local publican appears to have no appreciation for the requirements of Tier 2 and solace can be found by a regular pint or six while reading the print edition of the Telegraph, a rubbery and inedible Scotch Egg sitting on my table until I leave when I feed it to the dogs. Makes a change for them from squirrel.

(2)(4)

Barrister

Nothing beats shooting a squirrel. I thought I was the only one

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.

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