With the Government beginning to set out its plans on how the economy might make its first steps towards recovery and a ‘Covexit’, we reflect on our experience of the past seven weeks in lockdown. What has the legal sector learnt from this? What fresh perspectives have we gained? What new ways of working and good habits will we take forward with us into recovery? We spoke to colleagues across the business to find out. Here’s what they had to say….
With the start of the lockdown changing our working and family lives overnight, we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how quickly people have adapted. Businesses can often be resistant to change and even small matters can be debated endlessly before anything new is tried. The lockdown has been a reminder to us all to embrace change and that it can be a force for good – something we’ll definitely be trying to take forward with us as we move towards recovery.
“It’s amazing how quickly people have adapted to the changing circumstances using video calls, emails, text messages etc. I’ll be encouraging colleagues and clients alike to keep working electronically. Do we need that meeting in person? Can we communicate more quickly and effectively without being in the same place at the same time?” (Heledd)
“Many of our departments’ clients are elderly and sometimes quite stoical but they’ve not been panicking and are very accepting of the more challenging environment we’re working in. They’ve been very creative in the ways they’ve been adapting.” (Clare)
“People really want to help and to use their skills in practical ways for the sake of us all. For example, I have just been talking to a client who is working on a joint venture to create two new businesses, which will benefit hospitals and healthcare professionals. People are embracing the change and pivoting their businesses towards what is needed in the here and now.” (Paul)
There is certainly nothing like the industry being turned on its head within 24 hours to throw in to sharp relief areas of weakness in the legal sector. Of course, it also exposes the strengths and highlights new practices that could benefit the sector into recovery and beyond.
“The lockdown has shown that some legal issues, such as how documents should be signed make it very difficult when you are isolated. There are good reasons (e.g. prevention of fraud) why documents need to be witnessed (especially wills) but the law does need to adapt to a more electronic/online world. Hopefully, a positive of the past seven weeks will be more of a focus on this in future.” (Heledd)
“Dealing with the courts has proved that adapting to the change and the need for virtual working has not been completely successful. Conversely, the situation has forced the courts to embrace technology quicker than they might otherwise have done so and Judges are more open to virtual hearings than they were before. The learning point I hope is taken into recovery is to use technology where possible to improve the client experience, be that the law firm’s clients or the court’s users.” (Richard)
“The lockdown has highlighted how the construction sector is very dependent on the economy and all its constitute parts – there are a lot of parties involved in a property transaction and all have to be available for the matter to proceed.” (Julian)
Relationships are everything
Now more than ever, people are learning the true value of the relationships they’ve built up with businesses, customers and employees over the years. Even with contracts in place, without a blueprint of how to handle such a momentous economic change, personal relationships play a big part in negotiations. Fortunately, we’ve witnessed a renewed focus on relationships during the past weeks and as we move towards a recovery the power of helping each other as a business community can’t be underestimated.
“People have more time to speak to you and to take an interest on a personal level – they are using the time positively to invest in relationships.” (Julian)
“We’ve seen an increased willingness to co-operate and engage with each other, be it internally amongst colleagues or externally with other solicitors. Practitioners and clients have been working together really collaboratively to try and ensure process is followed despite the circumstances.” (Richard)
Wellbeing is not a ‘nice to have’
Working and living in conditions that we’re not used to in relative isolation can certainly take its toll when it comes to our mental and physical health. However, we’ve noticed a real focus from employers on looking after their staff which can only be a positive to take into the future. While many employees are determined to continue newly formed healthy habits.
“As a trustee of the charity Centre for Thriving Places (formerly Happy City Index) which measures and promotes well-being, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the care around well-being. Far from ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ many employers are very concerned about the mental health of their staff whilst working from home and as they plan to return. When we went into the crisis we were concerned that a lot of the projects we were looking at wouldn’t go ahead, but that’s not proved to be the case and we are quietly optimistic about the future.” (Paul)
“Ensuring that I exercise regularly is an important lesson. In the office I tend to sit in front of my computer for the day but working from home I have got used to ensuring that regular exercise is taken at least once a day.” (Richard)
“The lockdown has made me realise that sometimes you just need to simply take a breath” (Julian)
This is undoubtedly the most challenging time of our lives for many of us, so when it comes to having a positive mindset it can be easier said than done. Nevertheless, working with businesses across a raft of sectors, we’ve been inspired by some of the resilience and positivity we’ve encountered.
“Life will not be the same again. However, clients are managing working from home with relative ease, where their sectors are still operating, and do expect work to pick up again over the next few months. Their determination and positivity is admirable.” (Richard)
“Some of the forecasting done by the directors and managers I speak to is far clearer and on the button than we are hearing from our politicians, but mostly what comes across is the understanding that this is a national crisis and that we’ve been incredibly lucky that we have had nothing like this since the end of the Second World War. Also, that we have to accept life will change but we should try and see this as an opportunity to make certain things better than they were before.” (Paul)
Thank you to our colleagues for their contributions:
- Paul Hardman – Director & Head of Corporate & Commercial
- Heledd Wyn – Head of Long Term and Elderly Care,
- Julian Pyrke – Head of Commercial Property
- Richard Gore – Director and joint-Head of Dispute Resolution
- Clare Hopkins – Director & Head of Wills & Inheritance