NEW NORMAL

24 Aug, 2021

NEW NORMAL

In June 2019 I joined Think Legal Recruitment as an Associate Director. With five and a half years’ experience as a specialist legal recruiter up to that point it was a step up and a new challenge, which was daunting but equally exciting.

I joined Think to establish and grow our presence in the Midlands, with a particular focus on Birmingham. Being a small business and branching out into the Midlands for the first time, I was the sole consultant for Think Legal in Birmingham and given the freedom and autonomy to do it my way, with wonderful support, trust, and encouragement from my colleagues in Manchester.

Being the sole trader for Think in Birmingham meant I was mostly working from home. This was something completely new for me, having previously worked in this and other industries that very much encouraged being in the office, it was a huge change and one that required great discipline on my part.

My ambition and work ethic never being in question, I was honestly concerned (albeit quietly) about my own productivity. I am the first to admit that I am easily distracted, and sometimes disorganized, both of which are not conducive traits for successfully working from home; but I had to make determined changes to my routine in order to make this new venture a success. It became my “new normal” back in June 2019, and one that I continue to enjoy greatly. Don’t get me wrong, I do sometimes miss the company of colleagues and the office environment, but I do still get to enjoy this from time to time in Birmingham and Manchester.

As a company we all predominantly work remotely, and because of this we have always made concerted efforts to stay in touch and communicate throughout the day. It seems like an obvious thing to say, it seems simple, but actually when you’re in the throws of a heavy workload and you’re alone in doing so, this little bit of communication can be truly invaluable; not just from a professional point of view knowing that you have a support network, which is truly vital, but also from a personal perspective in being able to engage with people. I believe this was one of the biggest concerns when the pandemic hit and the whole country was told to work from home.

It’s been a tumultuous 18 months or so, but I think we can be proud of the fact that we found a way to cope. We adapted to survive, and this was largely in the form of working from home. While this was a shock to the system for many, an equally welcome change for others, for the legal sector it was quite the logistical upheaval. In an industry that was culturally imbibed with being office bound for longer than average hours during the working week, working from home was a monumental shift.

Now that the world is opening up again though, will we see a return to the way things were? Questions were raised about productivity with the entire workforce being separated from one another, working alone in environments that were not designed for the task etc. Questions were raised around security and data protection, confidentiality and so on, with the conversation starting in March 2020 and continuing in some part today but in the most part I believe that the legal sector has been pleasantly surprised by the so-called “new normal”.

More and more we’re now hearing of firms encouraging their staff to embrace this “new normal” with some going fully remote, giving their staff the option to work from home on a permanent basis and only attend the office when they need or want to; and others implementing an agile structure, with set days in the office and the rest of the working week from home.

There are a couple of things to take away from this. Firstly, with the right level of trust and support from your colleagues and the organisation, productivity needn’t be a question. Secondly, and I say this speaking from personal experience, this “new normal” was born out of necessity but continues as an evolution of the industry and a leap of faith.

This will undoubtedly affect people differently, juniors and the more experienced lawyers alike. For junior lawyers, being able to network and meet with clients, learning by osmosis simply by being present in the office surrounded by your peers and colleagues will be much more difficult than it has been for previous cohorts. The more experienced among us already have the soft skills needed but these are now being used in a different way via the likes of MS Teams, and Zoom for example, which is a new way of working and communicating that we have all had to embrace but that’s not to say it has been an easy step.

It’s encouraging to see how law firms have adapted their ethos in order to support their people working from home, not just logistically and practically with IT equipment and open lines of communication, but also acknowledging the culture shift and personal implications of being somewhat isolated. Hours are less structured, and an approach to one’s work life balance is more fluid than it ever has been. The result being productivity has largely improved throughout the legal sector.

How do we know this? Well, the legal jobs market is more buoyant then ever! We’re seeing opportunities that simply didn’t exist before the pandemic, and levels of growth that are less based on attrition and more so on success.

I had a year of working from home before it was mandated that we all did so. I had plenty of time to acclimatize to my “new normal” on my own terms, so don’t be too hard on yourself if it still doesn’t feel quite right for you. Where in the past one had to prove oneself before being given the flexibility to work from home, it is now expected but with that come the usual expectations regarding billable hours, client meetings, business development, upskilling and professional development etc. All from the comfort of your own home. Daunting as that sounds, in speaking to lawyers across the country (and outside of the UK) across all disciplines on a daily basis, my colleagues and I are hearing a lot of positive feedback regarding the way supervision, guidance, training, and the other elements of a lawyer’s daily routine are being handled and encouraged on the whole.

What is positive about this is the change in attitude we have seen from law firms and in-house legal teams across the country. “Flexibility”, “agile working”, these were key phrases and buzzwords before March 2020, used to highlight the pastoral side of multi-million-pound businesses and paint them in less of a corporate beast’s image. Now, they’re an absolute reality. The changes that have been forced upon us have been embraced and have resulted in a greater level of understanding and scope for accommodation based on one’s individual needs. For candidates, this means you can be suitably reassured that despite not being within touching distance of your office, you won’t be left out or left behind. For law firms and in-house legal teams looking for new talent, there are fewer geographical constriction which allows for candidates from further afield to find opportunities they previously had no sight of, and it equally allows for the hiring team to see a pool of talent that was previously out of reach.

Silver linings… they’re often found in the most unlikely of places.

For anyone wanting to discuss their options in the light of this “new normal” way of working, I would be delighted to have that conversation.

Gishan Abeyratne
Associate Director – Think Legal Recruitment
07720 694 701 | gishan@thinklegalrecruitment.com