There will be consequences – reflections on the second lockdown in Leicester
Glynis Wright, former president of the Leicestershire Law Society, discusses her experience of the Leicester lockdowns.
When I was elected president of the Leicestershire Law Society in May 2019, little did I know that my presidency would coincide with one of the biggest challenges the world has faced in a century, or that my city of Leicester would become known as the epicentre of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in England and would be the first area to experience a second lockdown.
I had sleepless nights
I own a small law firm of 16 staff. I too have suffered that overwhelming burden of stress and worry in the early days of the pandemic as to whether my firm would survive, and if it did, what redundancies I might be forced to make to keep things afloat. My stomach was in knots for weeks, and I barely slept as my mind ran through an endless series of survival strategies well into the early hours. I know that mine is not a singular experience, by any means.
I gained much strength from knowing I was not alone in the struggle to manage my firm through these awful times, and the conversations I had with other small law firm owners who were willing to share, particularly in the early weeks of the first lockdown, were a blessing.
There is an unspoken fraternity between small firm owners, and if I have learnt anything, it is that we could do so much more together, as a combined force, to increase our market advantage and to create opportunity and client footfall. A call to action perhaps for our post-COVID-19 world?
I had to dig deep
I have never had to dig deeper or work harder on health and safety, cashflow and budget management, marketing, insurance risk planning, contingency planning and boosting staff morale, in order to regain some sense of control, and to give comfort to my worried staff that all would be well.
If someone had asked me before the pandemic whether my firm could become a functioning remote service virtually overnight, I would have said that it was impossible! But that is exactly what my firm did, along with so many others. We are all capable of so much more than we imagine, particularly if we have chosen our teams well.
As Leicestershire Law Society president, I have often publicly extolled the unique qualities and strength of the Leicester legal sector. But even I was taken aback by the pragmatism and efficiency with which our member firms adapted to the changes thrust upon them.
We have a comparatively high level of small and medium-sized (SME) law firms operating in the region. In my view, that has created a robust and entrepreneurial legal sector that is nimble and adaptable to change – and so it has proven. Just as well, given that Leicester was hit with a forced second lockdown, just as the rest of the country was looking forward to some normality returning.
We entered a second lockdown
The second lockdown in Leicester led to shock, followed by a dark cloud of despondency and further, urgent reviews of cashflow. However, I was again moved by the camaraderie lockdown engendered.
Law firm owners were calling each other, holding Zoom meetings, sharing ideas on how to make remote working more effective, discussing funding schemes they had heard about, and generally supporting each other to keep morale up.
It is too early to know how many jobs in the Leicester legal sector will be lost, and how many firms may be forced to close. What is certain is that the post-COVID-19 world will present serious economic challenges to law firms, not least from a veritable tsunami of austerity cuts the government will inevitably have to make.
As business owners, we know that we will be paying off the country’s debt burden for many years to come in tax hikes.
As lawyers, we also know that the capacity of our justice system to run an efficient, accessible service has taken a huge body blow that will take years to recover from.
Those firms working in critical areas such as family and criminal law will be operating in an even more constrained and challenging environment than before. There were already significant backlogs in the justice system before the pandemic, now the number of cases waiting to be heard is even higher.
No Nightingale court for East Midlands
There was much publicised outrage in Leicester when it was revealed that the East Midlands was not to have funding for a Nightingale court to reduce the huge delays in court hearings and ease the burden on the family and criminal justice systems. This anger remains, and it can only be hoped that the hue and cry from our local legal community will be heard by the government.
There will be consequences
There will be ongoing consequences for law firms, many of which are now facing a huge hike in their professional indemnity insurance (PII) premiums. This has particularly impacted on SME law firms, which will struggle to meet the increased demands placed on them by the hardening insurance market, and the changing risk profiles. Since Leicester has more SME law firms than most cities, there is huge anxiety around this issue, and undoubtedly there will be some firms forced to consider a merger or closure.
Many Leicestershire Law Society members have shared their concerns that the mental wellbeing of our lawyers has been, and will continue to be, hugely impacted by the events of this year. As a local law society, we have trebled the amount of free training available to our members on important issues such as wellbeing, marketing strategies and making successful PII applications. The incoming president has already stated her commitment to keeping this training and support going in her year of office, recognising that the effects of the pandemic will be continuing for many years to come, and that we as local law societies can play our part in supporting our members.
Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.
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