Time flies during COVID-19 and, before we knew it, we were meeting up for a second Zoom meeting with Heads of HR / HRDs. Had things changed? Yes. But what was striking was the continued willingness to share and support one another in this continuing challenging time for business.

Shared learnings

To start the meeting, Totum Consultant Laura McNair shared results of a snap survey of firms undertaken by Totum:

  • 21% have furloughed fee earners as well as business support
  • 50% are thinking of furloughing fee-earners
  • 50% are thinking of salary reductions
  • 86% have not implemented salary reductions

Here are the discussion highlights:


In Phase 1, firms have furloughed obvious employee groups – including catering, reception, events – while others have asked for volunteers to furlough. Phase 2 is being considered for PAs and other business services. For some they have passed decisions to business heads who fully understand their teams’ resourcing needs. In all cases modelling has taken place and matrices have been pulled together to see if under-utilised skills can be used in other areas of the business. Trainees have been red circled but firms are checking with the SRA to see whether it is possible to complete training if working reduced hours. They are allowed to have a 4-month break without having to extend their trainee contact. This may be another option.

Alternative ways to reduce costs include asking volunteers to move to a four-day week or having lawyers who are not utilised on 50% pay. There are pros and cons to each, but modelling suggests that a lot of lawyers would have to be furloughed to match the savings of a four-day week. A reduced working week looks the most viable to reduce costs and keep employees working and engaged in the business.

Some have introduced four-week rotating furloughs, which is helping to keep employees feel engaged and part of the team and will also help the return to work in the longer-term.

Other firms have not, and will not, be furloughing staff. In many instances, partners are taking ‘the hit’.


Most recruitment has been frozen except essential recruits. Firms are not reneging on offers that have been formally accepted, although some start dates have been pushed back with mutual consent.

Furlough & Holidays

Policies have been adjusted and communicated to those who have been furloughed. Employees will remain on the payroll and will continue to accrue holiday and service in most instances. There is currently no option to do a mixture of reduced hours and furlough leave.

Firms are encouraging their employees to take their annual leave, or at least some of it, to ensure they’re also looking after their mental health and switching off. They are also allowing some holiday to be carried forward.

Team Management

This continues to be challenging and there’s keen awareness of the need to keep up team spirits. All firms highlighted the importance of keeping in touch including with those who had been furloughed and vulnerable employees. But overall attendees said how amazed they have been at how quickly teams have moved into a new ‘norm’, with new routines. Both formal and informal daily / weekly video calls take place and there is a large bank of resources on hand via Intranets. Many have received good feedback on the resources produced.

Other activities include Skype links for pub nights or ‘time in the kitchen’. There is no pressure to attend the events but the room will be available for anyone to attend and can chat with whoever else is available, as you would do in the office. Also, firms have made available virtual classes, like Yoga and dance, as well as portals to encourage employees to share what they are doing, etc.

Virtual Vacation Schemes

For those who will be continuing with vacation schemes, they will be recruiting students who have already worked at the firm. Some start dates will be delayed.


For most this has been paused or they will continue with a light touch approach. HR is encouraging ongoing conversations with managers. 

The focus of these events is to provide a different perspective on topical issues, to encourage debate and knowledge sharing, as well as provide the opportunity to meet and share experiences with others at a similar level. We hope to bridge the gap between those established in senior leadership positions and those who, perhaps, are leading the function for the first time.

For any HR professionals from law or professional services firms who may be interested in attending our future events, please contact Laura McNair.

For more information on recruiting HR & operational roles, please contact Laura McNair at [email protected]