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Latham sets lawyers’ Skype status to ‘away’ outside business hours to break ‘online 24/7 mindset’

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Lawyers at Latham & Watkins will automatically have their status on Skype set to “away” outside business hours in attempt to break the “online 24/7 mindset”.

The US law firm recently told associates across its offices, including those in London, that their default status will automatically switch from green (online) to yellow (away) beyond the hours of 9am and 6pm local time. Those that are offline will remain grey.

“We recognise that boundaries between work and home have become increasingly blurred in a remote environment and we hope that this change will make it easier for everyone to step away from their computers when not working,” read a memo sent around the firm, and first reported by the website AbovetheLaw.

But while Latham hopes a default “away” status will help break an “online 24/7 mindset”, the firm said that this change “will not affect work demands outside regular business hours” and that its lawyers will still have the ability to send and receive messages whilst “away” and can manually change their status, if desired.

“We encourage everyone to maintain an open dialogue within their teams regarding projected work flow, availability, and deadlines,” the memo continued. “It’s generally a good practice, and will also help all team members find the right opportunities to enjoy some time away from the home office.”

The 2021 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

The blurring of boundaries between lawyers’ professional and personal lives has been an issue reported widely in the press since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and move to home-working. It has led some law firms to come up with new ways to ensure their lawyers can truly unplug. US law firm Orrick introduced in March a new policy that makes holiday count towards billable hours, whilst Baker McKenzie announced in December it is encouraging lawyers to keep Wednesdays and 1-2pm on other work days free from internal meetings to “combat Zoom fatigue”.

There have been reports in recent months detailing the extent to which lawyers, and particularly those at the junior end, are suffering “burnout”, having worked longer hours in isolation during the pandemic.

Speaking to the Financial Times (£) in March, one associate at Latham, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “The fear of burnout is real. Since January 1 I’ve worked about 150% of my targeted hours. The work is interesting but has pervaded every waking (and sometimes sleeping) moment.”

“With the ability to take holidays curtailed there is an implicit expectation that we are generally available to help … I often find myself thinking how long can this be sustained?”

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34 Comments

Baker 2PQE

Pathetic virtue signalling

(69)(9)

Anon

This is the equivalent of chucking out a few wellbeing seminars. Latham probably think they are doing something great for their lawyers but in reality it has zero effect on mental health and late hours culture.

(47)(3)

Trainee U.S

Exactly! It’ll make it worse because your status is “away” and you’re anxious that someone might think you’re doing nothing when you’re actually working. So putting back to “available” will then mean you’re working and not taking a break…. rubbish!

(21)(1)

Soon to be NQ exploring options

Can anyone who actually works at Latham describe the culture/work life/hours? Is it really as bad as some would have you believe, compared to a top City firm/SC/MC?

(4)(5)

Trainee

Basically same as MC. Bit worse than some SC firms. Depends a lot on practice area.

(9)(3)

Donkey

Too many committees.

(7)(0)

NQ U.S

Culture is great and people are super friendly but the work life and hours is pretty high and hard across the firm. But you’re aware of that as it is a top top firm for a reason.

(11)(3)

Kronos

Is it a TOP, top, titan though?

(12)(0)

top top top top firm NQ

what makes you think it’s a top top firm instead of a top, top top firm?

(23)(0)

LW senior associate

Same as any other US or MC firm as far as I can tell. Expected to work late nights when client demands require it, and can make the most of your downtime when you get it. I have months of 250+ hours and months of 50 hours. But ultimately there’s an expectation to hit the 1,900 hours target. In my opinion we’re treated like adults and just expected to get the work done in the required timeline but no face time culture, if you want to go to gym classes or get an afternoon hair cut or watch your child’s pantomime, that’s fine, just make sure you get your work done around it.

For what it’s worth, the Skype thing was suggested by some associates and the firm thought it was a good idea to help people try to feel less pressure to be constantly at your desk. I was skeptical so at first but it’s been in place 2 weeks now and is working well.

(28)(2)

MC Associate

For those interested, my annual hours target is 1,650, which is about what I end up on most years (and when I don’t hit it literally no one cares). So you can compare the expectation there for those who say it’s exactly the same at US and MC firms. They don’t pay all that extra money for nothing.

(6)(1)

Discuss

Even taking your case, which is a low number of hours for an MC associate, you would be a mug not to take the extra money for 250 more billable hours. All other things being equal, of course.

(4)(4)

MC Associate

7 hours per day as a nominal target is very standard for MC as far as I’m aware. Factoring in 25 holidays and 5 bank holidays that comes out to about 1,600 annually.

Factoring in the same assumptions, you work 230 days a year. So that’s more than an hour extra a day, every day. Finishing on average at 8 vs finishing at 9 is a really big difference in terms of work life balance. Not saying it’s wrong to take the extra money (and Latham is a great firm to work at), just pointing out the extra money doesn’t come from thin air like a lot of idiots seem to think.

Incoming MC

Do hours vary across the MC firms though? Maybe thats why. In any case, I know that whilst hours between MC and US firms might be the same, I understand the culture at US firms is definitely more intense and your weekends/holidays are not really respected. That’s the clincher for me.

Another MC Associate

I have friends at US firms and our hours seem pretty similar. I do think that they probably tend to work weekends more frequently. Then again, I will usually have to do at least something on a Saturday/Sunday probably every other week. Depends on which MC firm I guess.

anon

If it happens automatically for everyone, it won’t make any difference. Everyone will continue working as normal because the status change to ‘away’ isn’t genuine, it’s just symbolic. Anyone with an ‘away’ status will be assumed to still be working, but having just forgot to change their status, precisely because the change to ‘away’ is automatic for everyone.

What you want is an office culture where setting your status to ‘away’ is accepted and where setting your status to ‘away’ actually means you are away from your desk.

This nominal change does nothing but create positive PR for Latham.

(26)(2)

bob

I actually think this is a good move, albeit a small one. It definitely reduces the need for juniors to be online at their desks for presenteeism purpose. Sure they will still need to respond to e-mails, but they can keep an eye on their phone watching Netflix if they don’t have anything immediate to do.

(11)(10)

The OC (Bristol)

19 May 2021
I was delighted to read this morning that Latham & Watkins is moving away from shaming their lawyers for being ‘away’ from their computers. Frankly, I wish my firm would do the same – it’s simply impossible to get to Cheltenham and back from Bristol over a one hour lunch break and now the shops have opened up again it’s an ongoing dilemma, almost daily. I think Latham & Watkins must have their time zones mixed up though, I never work past 6pm, which I believe is lunchtime in New York and that makes much more sense as it’s hard to whiz round Bloomingdales in an hour.

(29)(5)

Anonymagic

I am completely in favour of doing whatever is possible to establish a more reasonable work-life balance. The point is always trying to better ourselves, otherwise we would be permanently stuck in the past.

That being said, this firm (like many other institutions, legal and non) pays top of its market and engages in top-tier deals and transactions.

As a result, how can it be reasonable to expect this kind of remuneration/exposure for 9-to-6 working hours?

(5)(1)

Anon

It doesn’t. They stated it ‘will not affect work demands outside regular business hours’.

(3)(1)

Anonymagic

*Incoming bravado from wannabe Kirkland associates procrastinating from first-year revision*

(13)(2)

Anon

Seems like every firm in the city, not only those US/MC/SC firms known for intense workloads, has had a real issue managing hours. If your bedroom becomes your office, there’s no excuse why you can’t quickly do a piece of work or respond to an email. You may laugh at Latham, and it can be construed as virtue signalling, but every firm is struggling to control it. At least they’ve acknowledged the problem. If you have a demanding partner/supervisor there’s little you can do.

I feel for those who’ve started their training contracts or qualified during covid. I can’t think of many positives for them. It’s sad, it really is. Imagine waking up every morning and working in the same room/house throughout the entire day, with limited face to face contact, change of scene etc. It’s dystopian. All we can hope now is that working life returns to some semblance of normality in the near future.

(28)(3)

Baker 2PQE

Firms aren’t so much struggling to control it as blindly going along with it. It’s quite simple to say no to the occassional piece of work: if all law firms do it, then it’s not like clients will just move on. As long as some firms have this mentality, others will profit, which means that all firms do it. They will keep burning young lawyers like matches and it will never change. That’s what makes this virtue signalling, it’s a sticking plaster on a leaking nuclear reactor.

(25)(2)

Yours Pessimistically

Normality is dead. Covid-era expectations from clients are going to continue in post-Covid times. The partners will return to flying around the world to drum up business, go to conferences, and generally have a lovely time; the associates will be expected to sit in the office every night because the clients (especially banks and PE funds) have gotten used to having their comments turned and calls returned at times of their choosing. There’s going to be mass burnout within a few years, but law firms frankly don’t care because there’s a bulging pipeline of desperate junior lawyers to do the grunt work.

Any student with two brain cells should stay away from law these days. Even five years ago it was a great profession to work in; the pandemic and endlessly increasing client expectations have transformed even the nicest firms into sweatshops. If you don’t care about that, go into banking and make much more; if you do, go into tech or consulting and have an actual work-life balance.

(34)(1)

tzakob

who tf thinks that ‘tech’ is a viable exit option for 99% of law students out there. law students have zero familiarity with coding and can’t manage anyone to save their lives.

(18)(0)

SC

In my experience your online status matters not a jot when something needs doing. If you’re working on a live deal your supervisor is not going to hesitate to message you at all hours! Commercial law at the top end will make you loads of money but prepare to slave for it at various points in your career.

(7)(1)

GoodWINNER

Latham? Yet another firm that pays less than Goodwin 🥱🥱🥱

(8)(10)

anon

I’m sure my supervisor will understand when they see I’m “away”.

Pathetic.

(3)(1)

Lol

The literal equivalent of splashing a little water on a big bonfire

(7)(0)

Anon

Embarrassing gesture. If people see you’re status on Skype is yellow they will just send the same message in an email rather than an instant Skype message.

(2)(2)

LW senior associate

I can’t see how that’s a bad thing – then there’s not the same feeling of pressure for juniors to be at their desks 24/7 in case they get a Skype message. They can sit and watch Netflix and keep their phone handy for urgent emails. And if it’s not urgent, it can probably be done the following day.

(4)(2)

Poem For Your Counsel

“Our associates are flagging,
Our trainees are burnt out too,
The PSL is weeping,
Locked inside of the gent’s loo.
To fix this we should rebirth
Latham’s work culture anew!”
“Or we could auto-change the Skype status?”
“Yeah, that’ll probably do.”

(17)(2)

Roy

A simple fix, but a complete solution. Everybody is completely happy now.

(2)(1)

LW Trainee

Latham trainee here – I was very skeptical at first but it has definitely made a huge impact. Although it’s automatic and happens for everyone, it means that on days when I’m really done early, I don’t feel guilt about logging off or being Away for 6 hours+, because everyone else is. Also means people are less likely to IM you after 18:00 and email you instead (which removes the pressure to respond urgently). Candidly, we all know what we signed up for when we joined LW, but I would rather have this change than more Headspace or one firmwide holiday.

(0)(0)

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