The country’s largest law firms are providing clients with plenty of advice on the legal implications of the Covid-19 crisis but doing little to explain their own response – both the impact on staff and how they are supporting their communities in dealing with it – research by specialist legal communications consultancy Black Letter Communications has found.
The consultancy reviewed the websites of the top 200 law firms and found that 159 had dedicated sections on the legal implications of the pandemic, including 92 of the top 100. A quarter of the firms provided multi-media resources, such as webinars and podcasts, on top of articles.
However, 45 firms, including some of the biggest in the world, failed to mention at all the impact of the pandemic on the firm and how it was responding, while 41 of the firms that did made it hard to find – often it was a post from mid-March following the lockdown announcement that was only discovered by going back through the news section of the website.
Just 44 of the top 100 made this information easy to find, while 70 of the firms from 101-200 did. A few firms make prominent reference to it on their homepages – Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner and DWF, for example – while others included easily found links to it within their Covid-19 sections. A few have updated this information as the weeks have gone on.
In the main, firms provided brief and general information to reassure visitors that it was business as usual and staff were working from home. Just a handful went further than this – Hogan Lovells is a good example, with a detailed Q&A dealing with issues such as ensuring security and confidentiality of client data during remote working.
Two good innovations we found were a series of videos from Simmons & Simmons lawyers (and often their dogs) about adapting to working from home, and a montage on the homepage of Scottish firm Digby Brown’s website of lawyers talking to each other by video to show that “We are very much open”.
Just four firms openly admitted to having furloughed staff – Devonshires, DMH Stallard, Brethertons and Mayo Wynne Baxter – despite stories in the legal press showing that many more have done so.
One firm, Minster Law, published a promise that there will be no forced redundancies relating to the outbreak, while Veale Wasbrough Vizards said it has frozen recruitment.
It appeared from the review that only four of the top 200 – Hogan Lovells, Shakespeare Martineau, Cripps Pemberton Greenish and Brabners – have signed the C-19 Business Pledge, a campaign that encourages businesses to join the coronavirus relief effort by pledging to support their employees, customers and communities through the crisis.
However, in fact a further eight have also signed it but either not mentioned it on their websites or made it so hard to find that we did not come across the news: CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang, DLA Piper, Gateley, Herbert Smith Freehills, Lewis Silkin, Shoosmiths, Ward Hadaway, and Travers Smith.
The research found that only 22 of the 200 firms talked about any pro bono or other corporate social responsibility activities they were doing in response to the pandemic.
Simpson Millar is raising £50,000 to buy iPads so that Covid-19 patients in hospital can stay in touch with their families. A few firms highlighted efforts of individual staff members rather than any firm-wide campaign.
Some have done pro bono work, such as Withers advising on the set-up of the SalutetheNHS and masks4NHSHeroes charities, and Fieldfisher advising life sciences companies involved in the fight against Covid-19. Neither firm made this information easy to find.
Kerry Jack, chief executive of Black Letter Communications, says: “Many of us have been making mental lists of brands we will and won’t use again based on how they have behaved during the pandemic.
“The way people choose the companies they want to give their business to will be judged in a new way and this will apply to law firms too. Those that stood up, communicated well and contributed to the pandemic ‘battle’ will do well.
“We believe it is important for law firms to show their human face at this time. While it is understandable that they do not want spell out some of the difficult personnel decisions they’ve had to make, the unique circumstances of Covid-19 mean they may even benefit from being upfront about its impact.
“It’s disappointing that, on the face of it, so few law firms have acted to help those in need. Many trumpet their CSR credentials but are being found wanting at a time of maximum need.”
- Legal Futures Editor Neil Rose is a strategic consultant to Black Letter Communications.