Small firm solicitors’ wellbeing worsening as homeworking stretches on

Home working: Staff morale concerns

Homeworking has led to many solicitors at small firms experiencing feelings of isolation and lack of motivation – but also most want it to continue in some form post-Covid, a survey has found.

The latest Bellwether report from LexisNexis suggested that firms which “proactively manage the ‘human effect’ of Covid-19” would reap the benefits.

Having first polled solicitors in the weeks after the first lockdown, six months later the company spoke to 120 lawyers from a variety of firms with 20 or fewer fee-earners, half of whom had a decision-making role.

The three main Covid-19 concerns were the impact on staff morale and wellbeing (58%) – especially for those firms with six or more fee-earners – maintaining a client base for the future (34%) and the impact on efficiency (25%).

Three out of four solicitors were now experiencing feelings of isolation and a lack of motivation, a sharp increase since the outset of the pandemic and particularly worse for young lawyers, with a lack of management direction and supervision increasing issues. Some 44% said miscommunication or insufficient communication was a growing problem for homeworkers.

Though a majority found their working hours more flexible, a third said they were working longer hours, while stressed had worsened for 45% of respondents. Overall, 43% said their morale/wellbeing was worse, and only 13% said it was better.

But though LexisNexis said this brought a long-term shift towards homeworking into question, two-thirds wanted to work from home longer term, mainly part-time, with most (69%) saying their work quality had either stayed the same or improved since homeworking.

The report said: “The effectiveness of homeworking is undeniable; however, firms have had to think on their feet as the human elements of business, and relationship nuances are far more difficult to manage online.

“Perhaps now, looking to 2021, firms could think about putting strategies in place to manage the ill-effects of distanced teams longer-term… Firms who proactively manage the ‘human effect’ of Covid-19, stand to see benefits in morale, staff retention and resilience of teams.”

From a broader business perspective, however, fewer firms now described the impact of the pandemic on their business as critical compared to six months earlier. Confidence levels have remained steady, with eight out of 10 firms stating they were either ‘very’ or ‘quite’ confident in their outlook.

Some 42% said their practice was growing compared to three to four years ago, while just under half (47%) said their business was stable.

The impact of Covid-19 has fallen back to be in line with the typical law firm challenges of attracting new business and the continuing demands of compliance. They predicted that the long-term impact of the virus would be increased demand (31%) or no impact at all (26%), although a quarter of firms felt they were still suffering the effects at the moment.

Though three-quarters of respondents saw Covid as an opportunity to drive change and innovation, LexisNexis identified a danger that other business areas would suffer.

“Covid-19 has resulted in marketing and website investment both declining, as well as investment in people, recruitment funds and time allocated for pro bono work.

“Some 40% of firms are changing their practice area base, whether that be becoming more generalist or specialist, with the majority specialising. Increased investment in processes and technology are the key areas of focus for change, yet investing in people and training are marked lower on the priority list – though do firms recognise the need to invest in those needed to drive technology change, as well as the appropriate tools for the business?

“Equally, though marketing efforts appear to bring short-term gains, ultimately the impact of cutting marketing budgets and losing traction and visibility in the market, could lead to long-term problems for the firms.”

Marin Daley, small law lead at LexisNexis, said: “Law firms have worked exceptionally hard over the last six months to continue practicing and supporting their clients. The relief and positivism in this latest Bellwether is notable. However, it is clear that with one problem receding, the future is still uncertain.”

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