Legal industry response to the pandemic
The proliferation of Covid-19 has forced numerous changes in the economy, environment and society. There have been changes within the legal industry and how firms operate. With national lockdowns enforced in March and November 2020 alongside consistent restrictions, working from home has become the norm for many. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development reported that during lockdown, the average percentage of the workforce working from home ‘continuously’ was 54%.
For firms that continued to operate, this adaptation was necessary. Everything from routine work, conducting assessment days and facilitating insight days has been moved online. Firms who engaged in online vacation schemes this year include Bird & Bird, Pinson Masons and Linklaters. Virtual work experiences through providers such as The Forage have become commonplace.
The pandemic also prompted greater scrutiny into how organisations support the wellbeing and mental health of their employees. Lockdowns, self-isolation and shielding has led to the widespread decline in mental health, exacerbated by financial instability and job losses. The removal of the split between work and home life has increased the prevalence of working long hours and burning out. For those who have begun going back into the office, there is often fear and anxiety. The Health Foundation describes an 8.1% decline on average in mental health in comparison to pre-pandemic.
Many have begun asking themselves why these new practices were not introduced before. The use of technology to facilitate remote activities has increased accessibility. For those who could not afford to travel to the City, or to stay in a hotel for a vacation scheme, this is no longer a problem. For those who have a disability making it difficult to attend the office, this is no longer a problem. For those who could not take time off work, they can now engage in online opportunities alongside their regular employment. It is the perfect time to begin entrenching this accessibility into the hiring process.
Legal Cheek reported that a diversity and inclusion advisor at The Law Society of England and Wales is ‘encouraging firms and organisations to reserve places for disabled people on their work experience’ programs. It states that some firms have already begun setting aside training contract places. This is one example of the industry recognising that there are diversity issues and seeking to mitigate them. Continuing remote access could only be beneficial to this aim.
Similarly, the increased focus on mental wellbeing has forced organisations to confront long present issues. In the Law Society Gazette, Melanie Pritchard explains the need to move mental health to the ‘top of the legal agenda’. Mentoring programmes such as GROW MENTORING have been created which support aspiring legal professionals in many ways. A quick browse through LinkedIn highlights the communities that have developed of people who motivate, celebrate and help one another. Although great, these initiatives also emphasise that law firms still are not doing enough in many areas. Despite this, the pandemic has highlighted these weaknesses which is the first step in overcoming them.