Lawyers in lockdown: Law and leadership
Lawyers are working through the biggest challenge that the legal sector has ever experienced both professionally and personally.
This extraordinary time will test us all. Even under normal circumstances working as a lawyer can be very stressful. When we add to that the pressures and restrictions that come with COVID-19, such as isolation and home-schooling, stress may well be magnified affecting our wellbeing and mental health.
After getting past my initial reaction, which was to retreat from this greater existential threat, my focus quickly turned to finding new ways of supporting others through this crisis. As a member of the Law Society’s Women Lawyers Division, I wanted to ensure we were researching and creating relevant content to support our members.
We have done this by recording podcasts with expert guests on relevant, pressing issues. What became absolutely clear during the podcast interviews was the importance of maintaining focus on diversity and inclusion in these challenging times. The need to understand gender experiences and how women in law and diverse groups are impacted differently during Covid-19 is as important as ever.
A positive change?
Working from home with your children or in isolation is not ideal. There is no way around that. But there are some positives – I am seeing so much more of my husband and my three-year-old and my work life balance has never been better. Will this unprecedented time create a revolution in flexible working that we have all been waiting for? In short, the optimist in me says yes.
The sudden cultural shift in how we work, and the lessons learned from lockdown are likely to spark a rapid and widespread increase in home working. In fact, the right to work from home could be enshrined in law, creating a workplace revolution after lockdown ends, and removing any notion of ‘working from home’ being ‘a female issue’.
Working from home has great benefits and could be an even more positive experience when things return to normal, without the pressures of Covid-19 or caring responsibilities. If we want a sustainable profession, we need to ensure that the positive and wider impact of these changes last, to enable law firms to emerge stronger.
Despite the challenges of lockdown, there has been some positive news. Moore Blatch managed to complete our planned merger with Barlow Robbins to form Moore Barlow. And in the process, celebrated a gender diversity milestone at leadership level. Our equity partner female to male ratio now stands at 52% and 48% respectively – bucking the trend and setting a positive example for top 100 firms. Bold leaders such as the BT Group have also reinforced their commitment to promoting diversity during lockdown, as they announced that only their most diverse panel law firms will be rehired automatically.
I want to finish by touching on leadership. In May, we celebrate Mental Health Awareness week with this year’s theme being kindness. I am reminded of a quote from Maya Angelou: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.
Law firms are in different phases of dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. There is no textbook for leaders in dealing with a 21st century global pandemic but we know that kind and compassionate leadership matters in a crisis.
Beyond this pandemic, leaders will need to be more strategic and implement the lessons learned. We will need to anticipate the new business models that are likely to emerge and find ways to bring in greater diversity of thought and inclusive leadership so that it is better than before. More progressive, more open, more caring, we could all do with more of this in our lives, be that in our professional lives or in our personal.