The legal world is likely to be changed forever by lockdown, with remote working becoming the norm. There is little doubt that the rules will change, writes Rosalind Hetherington
A month has passed since the UK government advised that all those who could work at home should. The legal sector has been moving toward more flexible working for some time but, for many firms and lawyers, the shift to working completely remotely has necessitated some rather large changes to the way we work on a day to day basis. The biggest of which (and one which is shared with most if not all other business) is the rapid uptake of video conferencing. Whilst being face to face with clients, colleagues and other professionals is nothing new, being separated by a computer screen and miles of internet cable, does make a difference.
A month seems like an appropriate moment to share some of the lessons learned from the last few weeks of attending video calls, conferences and hearings on almost a daily basis.
Find the microphone on your computer
Whilst this is somewhat mundane this has two benefits. First, you know where to aim your voice if you have a particularly frail laptop. Second, you can avoid interrupting your carefully worded oratory with rustling papers.
Keep a piece of blue tack handy
On conferences with more than even a handful of participants, some systems (or internet connections) can become rapidly overloaded with multiple video streams. It has become de rigueur, therefore, to keep one’s camera off unless you need to speak or be seen (for example, the judge and counsel addressing the court). This can – in hopping between different systems with different buttons to click to turn the camera off – lead to the risk that your camera is inadvertently on when you thought it was off. This means that all on the call might be watching you squint at emails or plead with a fractious child without you realising it. The judicious application of blue tack to your camera helpfully avoids this situation.
In the modern era where suits are falling increasingly out of fashion, more casual modes of dress abound. In the time of coronavirus some have opted to relax their work attire even further. The internet teems with stories of our legal colleagues in sunnier climbs being very casually (perhaps too casually) dressed; attending court remotely shirtless, from by the pool or in bed. This led one particularly irate judge in Florida to write to advocates reminding them that whilst life may be a beach, his courtroom certainly wasn’t.
Plead with your children
Whilst it might not be possible to avoid that fractious child from storming in at an inopportune moment, there are other ways that children (or anyone else using the same internet connection) can interfere with a call. Older children (or perhaps even older flatmates) who stream films and download games can take up bandwidth and thus interfere or even halt your video stream. Try to ensure they know when your calls will be to avoid the ignominious dash through the house to pull the plug on whatever download is taking up streaming capacity.
Curate your background
Consider what those on the call will see when your video is on. This can stretch from the simple (ensuring there are no clothes drying behind you and that the pictures are straight), to the wildly complex (even in lockdown some will take the opportunity for competitive interior decorating). It pays to take a moment to turn on your camera and check what the room looks like from the perspective of a video call.
The legal world is likely to be changed forever by lockdown, with remote working, video calls and hearings becoming more of the norm. There is little doubt that as time goes on, more rules and nuances of etiquette will be made. After all, lawyers do like rules.
Rosalind Hetherington is an associate at boutique private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP