I qualified as a solicitor in 1971. I have therefore seen a transition, which has not always been seamless, from a manual typewriter to an electric typewriter, then to an electronic typewriter with a memory, and then to a computer in its infancy, and subsequently to a computer with its current capability.
I live on my own and until recently did not have a computer, or access to any other techno wizardry, as I did not think it essential. I have never had any need, or indeed wish, to work remotely. As a result of the training I received from my inspirational father in our family firm, which has subsequently been involved in a couple of mergers, I have always placed great store by the personal contact with clients as a result of face to face meetings, which establishes that vital rapport and trust between solicitor and client, quite apart from being invaluable for complying with AML requirements!
The coronavirus pandemic has changed all that. I am now working from home on a laptop connected to Wi-Fi through a smartphone. I have adapted because I have had to do so, in order not only to maintain the standard of service that I provide to my clients which I regard as essential, and which I believe is valued by them, but also for my sanity and mental wellbeing, so that I can continue working effectively during this period of lockdown.
As I live alone, working on my own is not completely alien, and there is no commute to and from work which frees up some time. Although I am now on a 4 day week, I try and stick to the same routine and working pattern, as if I were working in the office, so as to provide a similar structure to the day, and as great a degree of normality as possible.
Our team has a daily conference call by Skype so as to update each other not only with regard to any work problems or issues of capacity, but also with regard to how we are all coping with the situation, and any amusing incidents which may have occurred, so as to introduce some humour. This certainly helps maintain the team as a close knit unit, particularly as three members of it have been furloughed.
Apart from this and work telephone calls, my social contact is mainly speaking to neighbours at a suitably safe social distance, although I am taking the opportunity to speak to clients who I know well, and close friends so as to keep in contact, as I would do normally. Other solicitors I have come into contact with understand about what is, and what is not possible, given the current restrictions.
What I miss most about the office, apart from the human interaction, is the ability to chat through issues/problems/ideas with colleagues, on a virtually instant basis in an open plan office, which stimulates one's thought processes, as well as emphasising the team ethic. In addition there are less distractions in the office, and self -discipline is definitely required to work efficiently from home, although I do not find that an issue. In my view, in an ideal world there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings, but that is very often not possible or practical logistically even when working normally.
As and when we return to a reasonable degree of normality, I am sure that there will be an increased use of video conferencing in order to save travelling costs and loss of fee-earning time, but some things will not change. It is impossible to supervise remotely, which is why paralegals and trainee solicitors were the first in line for consideration for furloughing. In addition it will still be essential for corporate transactions requiring the input of corporate, property and employment lawyers for instance to have instant access to them at one and the same time, and a lengthy conference call may not be sufficient or appropriate. There are also serious confidentiality issues with regard to working from home, and the safeguarding of data for example.
The human condition is such that we can adapt as necessary, even in the face of adversity. If I can do so in this very small way, then I am sure that others can adapt and adjust.
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