International legal life in lockdown: Singapore

Hanim Hamzah, Regional Managing Partner at ZICO Law, Singapore, talks about her experience of lockdown.

Hanim Hamzah“I think in the future there will be more of a focus on hybrid working styles,” says Hanim Hamzah, Regional Managing Partner at ZICO Law, based in Singapore. “So long as the work gets done, people are now more flexible and understanding of different working styles, and are being less strict on things like working patterns. As for the clients, they don’t want to see us if they don’t have to!”

While the potential economic fallout in the UK and other countries is now increasingly making the headlines, in Singapore Hanim says that ZICO Law has managed to avoid any job losses for now. “As with other firms the senior partners have taken a pay cut in order to protect the financial reserves and so far this has meant we can avoid any job losses.”

“In terms of working patterns too, in my experience most senior partners have enjoyed the flexibility this has brought. Younger lawyers who may live alone or at home with relatives are understandably more eager to return to the normal working environment; to take advantage of the opportunities for social connection and the consequent mental wellbeing this encourages. Others who have experienced issues with internet connectivity or who have struggled with the blurring of the distinction between their private and professional lives would be happier to return to the office.”

“For me, I’ve found my firms’ ‘Fun Time’ initiative, where we connect with colleagues on a more informal basis and share stories and pictures from home has been very effective at promoting closer cooperation and mental wellbeing. I came out of maternity leave only in February so the lockdown has almost been an extension of that – it’s actually been a very positive experience for me, allowing me to spend more time with my baby at this early stage.”

Hanim’s firm has taken a gradual approach to returning to the office: “ZICO Law’s offices in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere have all taken a staggered approach to returning to normal working conditions and in Singapore I have been back in the office – although still working from home – for some time.

"Most of the emerging Southeast Asian economies such as Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia have done very well, almost surprisingly well when compared with their Western counterparts, at dealing with the crisis. In Singapore too, I feel the government has been very astute in their handling of the emergency. Perhaps, given the fact that we went through the SARS crisis previously we could have done a little better but we had a very strict lockdown and this seems to have been effective.”

Conscious of the likelihood of further waves of infection and consequent government measures, Hanim has some words of advice for all those in the same situation: “I think mental agility and emotional intelligence are absolutely key – they should definitely be teaching these in higher education – you have to remain relevant and flexible in your approach both as an individual and as a firm.”

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