It’s been nearly two weeks since it became clear that we’d need to relocate our entire legal practice to kitchens, sitting rooms, and the odd home study, across the land.
Our ‘going agile’ plan, with an anticipated delivery target of 3 to 5 years, has been implemented in just under 10 working days.
Now that we’re all working from home, we thought we’d share our Top Ten Tips on how to operate as a fully functioning legal team remotely. You will have other suggestions no doubt. And we’d love to hear them.
1. REGULAR TEAM CALLS: Most lawyers can be fairly self sufficient for quite long periods of time when it comes to work. But those used to the office environment miss the interaction with their colleagues. We’ve found that daily dial ins, just to chat, are a good way of keeping up. These don’t replace one to ones or specific meetings or questions. They are to replicate the ‘water cooler conversations’. Conference calls are fine but video conferencing, through services like Microsoft Teams or Zoom, are better. Some of our teams have adopted ‘tea break’ calls each day at 11am, others have gone for Friday night drinks (bring your own bottle). Don’t over plan – it’s just a chat.
2. DEPARTMENTAL GAMES: We’ve always prided ourselves on being a close knit firm. But some of our larger departments have around 50 members and that makes it difficult for us to all keep in touch through a conference call. So we’ve started having department wide games. Housing management & Property Litigation plays e-bingo. Real Estate & Projects have a daily general knowledge email quiz. The goal is to ensure that people across different teams still identify with the department as a whole – and interact as a cohesive unit. It’s a quick bit of fun.
3. CALL SOMEONE DIFFERENT: It’s easy to remember to keep in touch with your direct team. You will often be emailing and speaking to them on a daily basis to progress ongoing projects. But one thing we miss is meeting people from other parts of the business, people you used to bump into in the lift or pass in the corridor. Apart from just the social interaction, those chance meetings were often useful ways of finding out what other parts of the business were up to, sharing best practice and finding ways to help each other. That’s particularly important for in-house legal teams who will want to find ways of helping support the core business in these challenging times. So don’t be shy, pick up the phone to someone you’re not directly working with to see how their part of the business is getting on. Everyone is adjusting and, in our experience, people enjoy speaking to someone new.
4. LEARN TO PLAY THE TRUMPET: At the beginning of the year, the average commute in the UK was just over 58 minutes a day. In London it was almost an hour and a half. That’s now fallen. For most people it takes them under a minute to get to their new place of work. So don’t waste that new time. Do something with it. Something that will give you a sense of achievement at the end of it. That might be learning to play the trumpet (although your neighbours might not thank you for that). Or maybe join an online book club or learn a language or virtually Visit the Vatican or …
5. LEAN ON US: Everyone is facing a number of similar and unexpected challenges. Whatever anyone says, their business continuity plan did not see the British Government ordering almost the entire population to stay in their homes as a likely scenario. But we’re adaptable and adapting. We, in private practice, get to see how different clients and organisations are dealing with the issues being thrown up. And we’re dealing with the same issues in our own business. Whether you manage a large legal department or are a team of one, give us a call. We’ll be happy to chat and share experiences from how to structure authorisation protocols in the remote world (double authentication is the key) to how to get a statutory declaration sworn (you’d be amazed how many lawyers are isolating with other lawyers).
6. DON’T CUT CORNERS: Notwithstanding that we are living in unprecedented times, the law is the law. Whilst it’s important for legal teams to be as flexible as possible, it’s equally important that they don’t ignore a legal or procedural requirement just because it’s difficult to comply with in the current circumstances. Legal teams need to be vigilant. It may be impossible to comply with the ‘standard’ undertaking normally given on property exchanges or completions – which requires documents to be sent that day. So solicitors need to be clear precisely what they can commit to doing and agree undertakings accordingly. Equally, if junior members of your team are accepting non standard undertakings then senior members may need to be on hand to make sure unnecessary risks aren’t being taken. And don’t forget to keep attendance notes. Calls on a mobile, whilst sitting at your kitchen table, may feel very informal – but that’s now your office and so the usual requirement for professionalism applies. This is a message that it’s essential to give to the whole team.
7. WET INK: The signing or executing of documents is proving a challenge with current restrictions on movement. Our experience is that different organisations are facing the challenge in different ways. For ‘simple contracts’ not involving land, electronic signatures are becoming widely adopted. Contracts relating to land are different because they need to comply with Section 2 of the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989 – and be in writing signed on behalf of the parties. Whilst there has been a case which indicates that an email might be sufficient, there is a degree of scepticism about that judgement. That can usually be sidestepped by authorising a solicitor to sign on behalf of their client. The execution of deeds is more problematic but there are steps that can be taken to make the process easier. If in doubt, give us a call – our corporate team has advised a number of clients on the vires and corporate governance issues here.
8. THINKING OF EVERYONE: Some roles will fit better than others into a ‘working from home’ pattern. For many senior lawyers, whilst the novelty may wear off, the kitchen is proving a great escape from the constant interruptions that come from office life. It’s the juniors that probably face the biggest challenge. It’s important that team leaders remember that, and put some thought into how juniors can best utilise their time. That will involve being available for remote supervision and questions. But if the lockdown continues, it may involve changing the focus of the junior’s work. And don’t forget their training need. We’re devising training modules for our own solicitors to enable e-learning whilst at home and we are developing our extensive seminar programme for distance learning – details of upcoming seminars to follow.
9. TOO MUCH PEACE AND QUIET: Studies have shown that perfect silence is actually not the best environment to concentrate in. Humans just aren’t used to it, open plan office workers in particular. An esteemed academic study determined that Vivaldi is the ‘go to’ composer when looking for music to work to. But it’s a matter of taste. Another study comes to conclusion that legal work (which usually involves quite a lot of thinking about words) is better done without song lyrics in the background. Our favourite is the Archers Omnibus, but at very low volume so you can’t quite hear what they are saying.
10. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED: Non lawyers have tendency to assume certain outcomes. When negotiating a deal they will often have a very set view as to how things will turn out. Conversely, lawyers are trained to constantly ask: what if? What if the market turns, what if the building burns down, what if the other side breach the contract. In these uncharted territories, your organisations need that sort of thinking now more than ever. You can help, and you should make sure your organisations know that. Much of your normal transactional work may be on hold. But, your team can be adding essential value by reviewing existing arrangements to see how they will deal with the current emergency and its possible outcomes. Your organisation should be reviewing a number of its plans, policies and procedures and updating them to fit the new landscape of risks. And given the uncertainties ahead that will be an ongoing stream of work. Step up and get involved.
These are our Top Ten Tips. You may have others. If you do, get in touch and let us know. It’s good to talk.