Obi Jegede’s baby son has become a regular participant in team meetings at UK law firm Bird & Bird. The meetings are virtual, of course, thanks to the pandemic lockdown. “He’s on all the internal calls,” says Ms Jegede.
A trainee solicitor in London, she adds that it has been good to see senior colleagues on video in a more informal setting. “In the office, you don’t see that as much, when there are deadlines, people running around the corridors, frantically sorting through paper — sometimes it’s good to see a bit more calm.”
As offices around the world closed and mass homeworking began, the divide between work and home life for lawyers blurred. Here, below, six lawyers from around the world share how they manage family and work life during the crisis — complete with their snaps of home life after weeks under lockdown.
Three main features are emerging that may change the legal profession beyond Covid-19: camaraderie, travel and remote working.
Camaraderie: Virtual meetings are revealing hidden sides of colleagues. “Although we are more apart physically, in some ways we’re a lot closer,” says Jaime Trujillo, partner and chair for Latin America at Baker McKenzie, based in Colombian capital Bogotá: “Having a peek into people’s homes, getting a better idea of what their routines are, who they live with, their personal challenges.”
Travel: Flying across the world to see clients is likely to be less frequent, even when restrictions ease. “There will be a lot more virtual work,” says Jon Baker, an associate at Pinsent Masons in London. “I would expect that to mean some firms will want to shrink their real estate.”
“Nothing replaces ‘in person’ meetings,” argues Mr Trujillo, “especially when you have to discuss delicate issues”. He had already visited Los Angeles, London, Chicago and São Paulo this year before the lockdown in March.
But he accepts that the crisis will force a rethink: “It will help us tell the difference between essential and non-essential travel.”
Remote working: Before the coronavirus crisis, many law firms had flexible working policies but the organisational culture had not always encouraged it. “It was viewed by some as a way of helping out working mothers,” says Mr Trujillo. “The situation has completely changed that. Remote working is an option for anybody.”
Tom Shropshire, global head of the US practice at Linklaters, looks forward to returning to the office. “But we have proven that this works in a way that we probably didn’t expect.”
Ms Jegede notes that, in the office, “an associate can just walk past and remember, ‘oh I need help with this’. You miss that when you’re not there,” she says.
She is glad, however, that law firms have had to test homeworking on such a large scale. “I’m looking forward to people having a better understanding that if someone is working from home they’re not skiving — we’ve seen that it can work.”
The view from lockdown
Partner, Squire Patton Boggs
In Tokyo we are under government emergency measures but I would call it “lockdown light” — there are no hard and fast rules. I have two boys aged 9 and 10. Their school switched to e-learning and they are on more Zoom meetings than I am. Obviously, we have the struggle with Minecraft, other video games and YouTube videos.
My husband is on a work assignment in Seattle, having moved over in the summer. Our plan is eventually to go and join him . . . then this happened. He is under complete lockdown. He’s a fabulous cook, so I’m having to improvise quite a lot.
As long as we are available and contactable, clients are not overly worried. My mainstay is corporate M&A so if I am mid-transaction it’s all go — long hours, weekends — but at the moment I have been working shorter hours. I am an extrovert so the virtual agile interaction is tough. I am chair of a volunteer network, Women in Law — our first webinar was about wellbeing and resilience.
Partner, global head of US practice, Linklaters
Before this all happened I was living on a plane quite a bit. I would try to be in New York twice a month, sometimes up to a week, then I would be back in London or if clients needed me to I’d be in Johannesburg, or Tokyo. In some ways I was living quite an unbalanced life.
I live in Surrey, outside London, with my wife and daughters, aged 16 and 18. Having breakfast with my wife every morning, having dinner with the kids in the evening, it’s really nice.
I got a Peloton bike over the holidays, which has paid off, but because I was sitting so much it was still like taking a long distance flight every day. I needed to then work more standing, moving the camera around, walking into my routine — my job before was so much walking the hallways. I’m a big face-to-face person, I get energy from it.
You don’t get the energy return from video calls, so I’d find myself exhausted at the end of the days at home. I think I’m in the top three users of our Webex conference tool. You get to know and see people differently.
Associate, Pinsent Masons
When the lockdown came and my wife, a trainee family doctor, went back to work from maternity leave, I started taking my son to the nursery for full days. He didn’t take well to that but now he seems really happy. It’s been OK but if a partner wants you on a call, you can’t say it’s a nursery pick-up time. I’d rather my son wasn’t the last kid in there but that’s life, you just accept that sometimes.
One time I was on a client call and he was crying loudly, and someone asked, “whose cat is meowing in the background?” We’re in a good phase at the moment, he sleeps 12 hours a night. We put him down at 7.30pm and I can do more work in the evening.
I work in an infrastructure project team, doing contracts for building projects so a lot of things are on hold while people work out Covid-related problems. The main thing we’re trying to smooth out is using tech. There are some concerns around using Zoom for client-related calls, because we don’t know about the confidentiality.
I have a pretty high pulse rate these days because we are busier than ever. About 30 to 40 per cent of us go to the office in Copenhagen at a time, in shifts.
Before, I travelled 150 days a year — I imagine I could skip a few of those in future. The other day we were on a virtual mediation of the city court of New Jersey. About 20 people dialled in — a mediator from California, a judge from New Jersey, lots of clients from around the world. Before Covid-19 we would have flown in, spending tons of money on aeroplane tickets and hotels, and the results wouldn’t have been any different. It was quite amazing.
My two children, aged 19 and 16, are with me. My girlfriend and her two children live separately from us, but we spend the weekends together in our summer house, north of Copenhagen. It is quite a challenge keeping my son motivated, especially since the computer is close to the PlayStation. I arranged the day so that he and I would “go to the office” at the same time. It has been nice to sit at the dinner table and work together.
I made sure he knew we would be done by 5pm or 6pm. After that we go for a long walk. I am co-owner of a safari camp — I’m interested in wildlife protection — in Tanzania, and, as the parks are closed, so poachers have free access. We have set up a project to do patrolling in the national parks, so my daughter has been helping work on this.
Trainee solicitor, Bird & Bird
I came back from maternity leave in March two weeks before lockdown started. My husband is very helpful, we take it in turns — communication is key, knowing when each other has a call, or how important the call is.
We are trying to sleep-train our son, so I often find myself awake till about 1am, but I’m not having to get up, drop him off at nursery and jump on a train.
The trainees have “virtual lunch” together every day. We have quizzes about each other, about the firm. That has helped with communication and feeling part of a team. I’m booking in virtual catch-up coffees with some of the associates and checking in with my supervisor. He is very responsive and doesn’t micromanage, which has helped a lot in easing my transition back to work. Some people find video calls draining, but I thrive on things like that. On the Houseparty video chat app, which mimics a house party, I have people jumping into the room that I don’t know — and that’s fine!
Partner and chair for Latin America, Baker McKenzie
I am up for calls from 6am with Asia-Pacific until late at night — calls at 10pm or 11pm are not considered intrusive. In a crisis, things like that are necessary, but I’m hopeful this will end soon. I’m living in an apartment with my wife and my 19-year-old triplets (two boys, one girl), and two dogs.
The kids have got virtual classes so in the morning they are in their rooms. Nobody interrupts me on my 6am calls but around noon I have to put on my virtual background to avoid the dogs and kids roaming around. At the beginning I was a little frustrated whenever I’d have a call with somebody junior — the noise, the distractions in the background — I realised then that they were living in an apartment a quarter the size of mine, with a lot more people around.
Most governments in Latin America have been extra cautious. Going out to do exercise was not possible at first; now you can go out between 5am and 10am. After my morning shift, at around 11am I try to work out on my Zwift virtual bike on the balcony; you can race on a virtual platform — on Saturdays about 10 of us ride together.
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