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

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Switch occurs automatically after 6pm

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.”

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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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