A large number of law offices across the world are reopening their doors and welcome their employees back to the workplace as we enter a season of rebirth and regeneration. However, as the globe commemorates the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001, and the legal profession examines the effect that global events have on their job, it is also a moment for introspection.
Table of Contents
There have been a number of foreign legal firms that have stepped forward to help with the evacuation and settling of Afghan refugees who have been streaming out of the country in recent weeks. Although lawyers are able to influence some global events, they are helpless in the face of others.
Significant events on the international scene have had an impact on the legal community as well. In Hong Kong, reporter Jessica Seah reported that 40 Chinese initial public offerings (IPOs) had been stopped as a result of a regulatory investigation into a prominent local law firm – a move that has had a significant effect on capital markets operations. Jessica also wrote about how Singapore has established a framework for blank-check companies to list in the city-state — the first Asian financial hub to host the vehicles known as SPACs — giving lawyers in the city-state the opportunity to advise on Asia’s second wave of unicorns. Singapore is the first Asian financial hub to host the vehicles known as SPACs. China’s new anti-penalties legislation, which was enacted in response to a series of U.S.-led sanctions against Chinese people and organisations, according to Anna Zhang, is having an impact on attorneys and their clients. According to Anna, the growing hostile relationship between the United States and China’s regulatory systems will have significant consequences for cross-border economic activity that we have come to take for granted.
Meanwhile, in Europe, Germany-based reporter James Carstensen reported on Amazon’s record €746 million GDPR punishment, which he believes will once again shake up the governance of data across the world. The Irish data protection authority, which is often regarded as one of the laxest in Europe, stepped up its enforcement of data protection laws with a €225 million fine against the WhatsApp messaging service, which is owned by Facebook, according to some.
In South Africa, a significant shift has happened in recent months. Journalist Jennigay Coetzer reported on the head of Baker McKenzie’s Johannesburg office stepping down after allegations of bullying in a piece co-written with London writer Meganne Tillay for the Financial Times. While this kind of conduct has always been a feature of the legal profession, a drive for inclusion and respect on a macro level seems to be having an effect on the profession as a whole.
Across the world, law firm executives have been debating whether and how to return to work after a period of absence from the profession. Lawyers are already in the workplace in certain areas, but in others, remote work is still favoured over in-person employment. As COVID-19 variations continue to spread, businesses are debating whether to require vaccines before returning to the workplace or even if this is really permitted.
In most of Europe, however, this is not the case. Employers in certain countries are prohibited from even inquiring about their employees’ vaccination status, much alone requiring vaccinations, due to privacy regulations. Although national regulations vary, businesses have found themselves stuck between the legal duty to safeguard employee health and safety and the legal restriction against intruding upon the right to privacy.
Even as late as mid-August, Canadian businesses expressed reluctance to declare that they would need workers who wanted to return to work to get vaccinations. In reality, only one corporate legal firm, Wildeboer Dellelce, has openly declared that vaccinations would be — and should be — needed in the event of a pandemic. However, by the end of the month, as the number of COVID-19 delta variant infections increased across the country, correspondent Gail Cohen writes that those same big firms changed their tune. McCarthy Tetrault was the first national law firm to announce Aug. 20 that all firm members would be required to “confirm that they are fully vaccinated” in order to return to the office or attend firm events as of Aug. 23. McCarthy Tetrault was the first national law firm to announce Aug. 20 that it would require all Other Canadian law firms, including Dentons Canada, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, Gowling WLG, and Norton Rose Fulbright Canada, have since implemented vaccination mandates, with effective dates ranging from immediately to the end of September.
Given the fact that the spread of COVID-19 shows no indications of abating in certain areas, most experts now believe that the previously stated return dates are subject to change. Some believe they may not be able to return to work until 2022. Even attorneys who choose to return to the office are likely to do some of their work from home. In the foreseeable future, hybrid work arrangements will certainly persist, which is good news for mid-level associates.
Meanwhile, there is a great deal of trepidation among law firm employees about returning to the workplace. Many lawyers still believe that direct collaboration with others is an important and enjoyable part of their demanding job, according to reporter Dan Packel. Some law firm leaders are attempting to entice them back with special programming designed to provide added comfort around what many lawyers still believe is an important and enjoyable part of their demanding job: collaborating directly with others.
Another example is Australia, where attorneys, along with ordinary Australians, have had to deal with a number of lengthy, tight lockdowns over the course of the last year. According to reporter Christopher Niesche, the emphasis of the country’s law firm executives is not on vaccine requirements or when they will be able to reopen their doors for business. In lieu of that, they are focused on making a concerted effort to support their employees by providing flexible work options, programmes to help them manage mental overload and sleep, and incentives such as UberEats vouchers, group exercise classes, sing-alongs, and virtual cooking demonstrations online.
Throughout it all, attorneys across the globe have been busier than they have ever been. Lawyer pay, of course, varies according on the location where the job is performed. Have you ever wondered how much attorneys make in different parts of the world? A group of around a dozen Law.com International journalists from more than ten different nations worked together on a study that addressed just that issue. Please have a look at our article on how much junior attorneys make in various areas of the globe.
Finally, the increase in work throughout the world has resulted in the emergence of a new issue. Senior attorneys, clients, and career coaches believe there is currently an epidemic of “performative busyness” in the legal profession, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States, which is fueled in part by the billable hour.