Firms reinstate most furloughed staff while uncertainty remains

updated on 12 August 2020

While a number of big firms have begun to recall furloughed staff as coronavirus lockdown measures begin to ease, the year ahead remains uncertain for hundreds of solicitors.

According to the Law Gazette, all 83 furloughed staff at Osborne Clarke returned to work at the beginning of August. As the firm continues to weather the impact of the global pandemic on the legal profession, managing partner Ray Berg described the forecast for the rest of 2020 as “unpredictable in terms of recovering from the pandemic and the end of the Brexit transition period in December”.

International firm Withers has brought back 21 out of 57 of its furloughed staff. Meanwhile, Shakespeare Martineau furloughed only 15% of employees during lockdown with those salaries topped up to 90% between April and June. Despite 47 furloughed employees returning in some capacity in July, the firm will continue to make use of the government’s Job Retention Scheme, with some staff remaining on furlough throughout August and September.

After furloughing 49 members of staff in April, Watson Farley & Williams has recalled 29 employees. Some staff were also requested to work reduced hours as the firm adapted to “operational requirements”.

At Hogan Lovells, instead of using the government’s Job Retention Scheme, a number of employees were not required to work but continued to receive their normal salaries from the firm. Although a small number of UK staff have still not returned to work. Gowling WLG’s UK offices remain closed, with furloughed staff who are returning to work doing so from home.

Magic circle firms Allen & Overy and Freshfields reveal their recent plans. Allen & Overy did not participate in the Job Retention Scheme and explained that its next phase of the London reopening on 7 September will enable staff access to the office on alternate weeks. Meanwhile, Freshfields’s has opened its Fleet Street office for those unable to work from home, with some staff expected to move into the firm’s new Bishopsgate premises in September.

Lawyers at Ashurst and CMS began returning in early July, with CMS introducing a “limited and voluntary” return to its London, Manchester and Sheffield offices.

With the government’s Job Retention Scheme set to end at the end of October, regional law societies have indicated that solicitors could face redundancy. Birmingham Law Society President Inez Brown spoke to the Law Gazette about future job losses in the profession: “Firms need to be careful they don’t make their high skilled solicitors redundant because when things improve in six months’ or 12 months’ time and the economy is doing much better they are going to need to start recruiting – and the very skilled people they have made redundant will have gone elsewhere.”