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Committee's Perspective: Remote working during lockdown

Introduction


It is well reported that the on-going coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout have disproportionately affected the 18-25 age group in terms of career progression, redundancy and job prospects. The same can be said for those that are at the beginning of their legal career. Even those that are fairly ‘safe’ from these risks are facing a huge shakeup in terms of the shift to home working. Once again it is the junior lawyers whose training and progression will be affected by this the most.


This blog has been put together to outline the different experiences of four of our committee members and to showcase the positives that can be taken from this paradigm shift in the way we work. In addition we hope to draw attention to some areas where progress is required if the move to home working is going to be successful.


If any of our members would like to reach out and discuss their stories of working from home or would like someone to speak to about their experiences, please do not hesitate to get in touch via our website or social media channels.




Florence Shoemaker

Vice President, Bournemouth & District JLD Trainee Solicitor, Ellis Jones Solicitors LLP


Overall, I have had quite a positive experience of lockdown and the change in working practice. I am lucky to work for a very supportive firm and I have a great relationship with the rest of my team. In any event, I have only been in full time employment for about 2 years. Before then, working from home whilst studying for my degree/LPC was very much the norm. In fact, I suffered a serious spinal injury 3 years ago and was effectively housebound for the majority of the final year of my law degree. I am therefore very accustomed to ‘lockdown’ and attempting to piece together work whilst struggling through a life changing event.


With that being said, I do remember the sheer panic that consumed me when lockdown was first announced. At that time, I was working as a paralegal in the Dispute Resolution team, working out of our Charminster office. I was dealing primarily with landlord and tenant disputes and dealt with serving a handful of possession notices each month. At the same time as lockdown being announced, the Government also declared a blanket ban* on all possession proceedings across the county - meaning that no landlord could progress their matter through the courts to evict their tenant (notwithstanding the fact that most evictions at this stage were entirely unrelated to COVID-19). *The ‘ban’ was in fact formalised by way of a ‘stay’ on proceedings.


I remember being very aware that I was arguably the most junior member of our team and I was facing the prospect of the majority of my work drying up. I therefore convinced myself that I was about to lose my job. Fortunately, for me anyway, landlord and tenant work did not slow down. In fact, the uncertainty introduced by the new Government measures meant that more people are seeking legal advice, whereas pre-COVID they would probably have served the notices themselves.


8 months later and I have now started my training contract with the Dispute Resolution team – the same team I was in whilst working as a paralegal. I have found this to be a really positive first seat, not least because I enjoy the thrill of litigation, but starting an entirely new area of law whilst working from home may have been difficult, especially not knowing a new team very well. I have, however, found that being at home has forced me to be more independent. Unlike being in the office, it is harder to ask your colleagues a quick procedural/legal question. This has made me more research focussed and able to be more proactive with my files. Further, I have found that I am significantly more productive at home, owing to there being fewer distractions. I should note that I do frequently speak to my colleagues over the telephone; having a strong line of communication with the team has helped us all stay connected during lockdown and meant that my training has not been affected negatively by being away from the office.


There is, of course, a downside to working from home. The main negative for me is that I am more inclined to work late whereas pre-lockdown, once you had logged off, there was little risk of logging back in again after dinner or later in the evening. There is now less separation between work and home, which has meant that I find myself logging in in the evening to check my emails and finish tasks. I have found creating a clear work space – now in the corner of my bedroom, as opposed to working at the dining room table - has meant that there is more separation between work and relaxing.


To conclude, I was recently asked during a podcast recording for the Bournemouth and District Law Society, to speak about whether I thought junior members of staff have found lockdown and working from home harder than more senior members of staff. Whilst I think there are some areas such as training and general job security which will undoubtedly be affected, I do think that more junior members of staff, such as myself, have not found working from home to be as much of a life changing event as, say, a partner who has worked out of the same office for 20 years or so. I think if firm’s work hard to ensure that training and support are not affected by being away from the office, I can see no reason why junior lawyers should be adversely affected by the changes to the way we work.




Alex Crabbe President, Bournemouth & District JLD NQ, Rawlins Davvy Solicitors LLP


When the first lockdown was imposed back in March of this year I had just begun the final seat of my training contract, in Civil Litigation. Although I was not furloughed and I was mostly able to continue working from home (gradually returning to partly working in the office) it was a struggle to achieve the same standard when I was not working in the same building as my training principle.


However, in terms of my working life, my main concern was over how the pandemic affected my career prospects. Amidst the talk of widescale redundancies and furlough, I was incredibly concerned that I would not receive a job offer on qualification. Having completed the final stage of the long and arduous journey to qualification, my fear was that I would then be left without any justification for that let alone income moving forward.


Although I consider myself to have been extremely lucky with my employer's reaction to the circumstances (I am delighted to have taken up a role as solicitor with my training firm), I am aware there are others who have been less fortunate and certainly do not deserve to have been prejudiced by circumstances beyond their control.


My day-to-day working life now consists of 3 days in the office and 2 days working from home. Working in Landlord and Tenant law, I find there is a great deal of work I can do entirely remotely from our offices. I even find I am more productive in my days away from the office. However, I do not see any way I could work completely from home. A combination in a need to deal with post, original documents from time to time and simply the opportunity of seeing a colleague or client in the flesh mean that I could not see myself becoming a full time WFH professional.


I suppose the counter-argument to that is that a year ago I did not foresee any possibility that I could work remotely at all. I look forward to the developments in legal professional working practice that are brought about by the circumstances we are in, even if I cannot say the same of the circumstances themselves.




Darren Francis National Committee Member, Bournemouth & District JLD 4 year PQE, Humphries Kirk Solicitors LLP

When the first lockdown came into place in March, a wave of uncertainty hit the legal profession and working practices as we knew them were disrupted. First, there was a wave of colleagues being placed on furlough and then came those who were able to work remotely from home. The office space became bigger and the number of bodies in the office dwindled rapidly.


The office itself became very quiet and at times the workplace became a very isolated and lonely place to work whilst everyone grappled with social media, zoom meetings and the like.


Fortunately, I was lucky enough to retain my job and continue working safely from the office five days a week following government guidelines. I have heard from colleagues that there are certain benefits to working remotely, however for me the benefits were that I could continue with my usual routine. I could keep in the mindset of dressing smartly and going into the office every day and having that familiarity as well as having all my files, IT and tools of the profession readily available and to hand. I am not adverse to trying working remotely but at present I do not have all the right tools and equipment at home to be able to do so, so for now working from the office works for me.


In terms of changes to my relationships with clients, things were quiet for the first couple of weeks once lockdown v1.0 was imposed, due to the fact that in my opinion everything was so uncertain and the situation was unprecedented. In my view, this resulted in clients being unsure as to whether they could or should pursue their matters, or even if they would be able to afford to progress things at a time when the whole country's economic situation appeared unstable for the first time in a long time. Fortunately that situation quickly subsided and work rapidly picked up, with telephone hearings and electronic bundles fast becoming second nature - which is good for me given that I have several lined up before and after Christmas! However, I must say that I feel with an increase in workload comes an increase in client expectation and demand and this sometimes can be a real struggle.


The last several months I have tried to remain positive and responsive to changes in the legal profession and working practices, and I have been finding different ways to improve and maintain my mental health and wellbeing. I have made sure that I make use of my flexi time (my firm is very flexible for those who need it) and my annual leave as much as possible, in order to recharge my batteries periodically. In my spare time, I go for walks, spend time with loved ones and am currently enjoying training our black Labrador puppy Holly.


Although I have been extremely lucky to have been able to retain my job and continue working with some degree of "normality" and familiarity, I am acutely aware of those who have not been so lucky and who have been adversely effected by these awful circumstances which are beyond their control. Who knows what the foreseeable future holds for the legal profession, but what I would say to anyone is to try to remain connected with colleagues (whether in person, by phone or virtually), make the effort to check in with one another and take the time to listen and find out how your friends and colleagues are really doing. But above all else make sure you look after yourself.


Patrick Herklots

Publication and Communications Officer, Bournemouth & District JLD

Trainee Solicitor, Coles Miller Solicitors LLP


I remember the lead up to the lockdown well. I had just started a new seat in commercial litigation and was still settling into the department. I would not be alone in saying the shift into remote working was difficult when being in such a new position. As well as getting to know a new team and a new area of law, I also had to get to grips with how to manage this remotely. Further, the whole team was getting to grips with this same process as well.


After the first lockdown was announced it was not long before I was placed on furlough leave. I was just 3 weeks into a new seat and so given the extreme circumstances and the shift to remote working I was not hugely surprised when it happened. I knew others going through this at the same time, but this did not mean I felt any less isolated. After the immediate shock and uncertainty, I found ways to be productive and motivated. I started running 3 times a week, started a book review website with some friends and entered (and won) the JLD essay competition 2020.


When I was called back from furlough leave I joined the family team at my firm during a particularly busy period. Lockdown had caused an uptake in the work and the team was working to manage high workload alongside the challenges of remote working. Hearings would be conducted by Zoom or telephone, client meetings would be done via video call and ebundles quickly became the norm. I was in the family team for a busy three months before I went back to Commercial Litigation to resume this seat.


Work has certainly picked up in the wake of Covid and many colleagues and friends of mine have opted to work from home. I have chosen to keep working at the office. For me starting off in a new seat involves lots of direct communication with the team (whether that be partners, solicitors, paralegals, legal assistants or secretaries). My work will often be hand annotated for amendments and matters and the law would be discussed in person. The back and forth that you get with personal contact is valuable, efficient and can act as a good sounding board for thoughts on points of law or ways to move cases forward.

Equally I have found that having the option to work from home feels almost invaluable now. Where I need to I can quickly log on from home and get urgent work done. If I have a busy week ahead being able to clear my workload during the weekend can help immensely. There has also been days where I have appointments or hearings to attend outside of work where it would be more time efficient to finish the day working from home. Being able to then seamlessly work from home feels natural.


Working from home and working from the office have their benefits, neither of which should be ignored. Being a trainee, I find that I work best in the office and I am reassured by the familiar environment and routine. Having the option to work from home is also invaluable. I am excited and intrigued to see how working practices change in the future to reflect the benefits of working from home.

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