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.
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.