COVID-19 EXPERT LEGAL INSIGHTS

Lawyers in Lockdown: Sandra Paul and Nikola Southern write for The Law Society Gazette

22 May 2020

Partners Sandra Paul (Criminal Litigation) and Niki Southern (Employment Law) recently featured in The Law Society Gazette's 'Lawyers in Lockdown' series. They both gave their personal and professional accounts of what it's like to work remotely during the Coronavirus pandemic.
 

Sandra Paul's account

I previously never availed myself of the strong agile working culture in my firm. Working from home is not as bad as I thought it would be and is something I will do more of post-lockdown. I have not quite cracked the discipline around start and finish times and at the weekend the keyboard calls to me to just "finish that job". However, having recently taken some time off, the improvement in my sleep, productivity and general happiness/positivity shows me that I need to get my act together and stick to a routine. A routine that now includes virtual Friday night DJ sets broadcast from a fellow partner’s garden shed!

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"As a criminal litigator, work continues but at a slightly different pace and in ways I had not anticipated. My week has included remote hearings in the magistrates’ court and crown court. I was really pleased I had a jacket to hand when a district judge randomly decided, without warning, that it was going to be 'cameras on' for the hearing; we need to agree a protocol for signalling cameras on or off!

We continue to protect our colleagues by persuading police officers that an interview really isn’t necessary at all or at this stage, or that it can be undertaken remotely or in writing. It feels like something is missing in this process and despite the successful outcomes, I am concerned about the compromises we are making and whether they will become the new norm. Not being in the same room as my client who is being interviewed just feels wrong and I have not quite got to the stage where I trust that, within an adversarial system, the police will not take advantage of my absence.

If I do not need to be there now, might the right to face-to-face representation be optional at some point in the future for more nefarious reasons? I am also concerned about the firms who are struggling at this time and that this lockdown will succeed in producing the cull that decimates access to criminal legal aid in a way that the corrosive and insidious cuts in funding over the last 20 years have failed to do.

But, on a more upbeat note, as we enter week five of WFH and an extension of the lockdown, I still see acts of random kindness in my team and firm that continue to make me think that this is going to be ok, eventually. Who knew that quiz rounds such as "whose desk is this?" would actually be fun (yes really!)."

This was originally posted by the Law Society Gazette  on 23 April 2020:  Lawyers in lockdown: Stories from the frontline

 

Niki southern account

I am one of the numerous solicitors faced with the unenviable challenge of working whilst also looking after children during the lockdown. My eldest son (9) has taken to kicking off the school day at 7am, often having made himself breakfast beforehand and finishing by 10am to leave the rest of the day free. Whilst he can find numerous creative ways of keeping himself busy, the youngest (4) is not ‘quite’ so able to entertain himself. Those with even younger children have my sympathy. My husband and I alternate taking charge of the boys during the day (often with one of us bearing the brunt depending on the demands that day) but our ability to actually engage with them is limited by the need to pay attention to our work."

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"The juggling of work and children is not new to many of us. Parents who work part-time, as I do, often find that boundaries between work and home become very blurred and sometimes home-life suffers as we continue to work in evenings, on our days off and at weekends to ensure that the work gets done. I realise parents are by no means alone in the blurring of boundaries. For all of us lockdown is a particularly intense version of working this way.  

One of the key reasons why I think women, in particular, leave the legal profession is that workload in law is often too intense to reasonably manage a work life/family balance and so, for some, it is unattractive, particularly if both parents are doing similarly demanding jobs. The continuing gender imbalance at the top of the legal profession concerns me and in my view, flexible/agile working is not the magic bullet solution many think it is.

My hope is that since so many more lawyers will have had direct experience of the positive (and negative) aspects of agile working as a result of this pandemic, we will see more meaningful and immediate conversations about work/life balance and how it can be achieved. Not only will this current situation make for more informed decision-making from the top down, it will also provide an evidence base for those decisions. While the intensity remains, I think improvement in gender balance at the top will be slow.

Once we can all see the benefits of clearer work/life boundaries and balance in terms of retention of talent, improved mental and physical health as well as the economic benefits both for our law firms and society as a whole, it would be good if what comes out of this extraordinary situation is a gradual (let’s be realistic about this) culture shift towards a new normal."

This was originally posted by the Law Society Gazette  on 18 May 2020:  Lawyers in lockdown: Stories from the frontline

 

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