A new work-life balance code at elite law firm Slaughter and May will offer some respite for hard-pressed lawyers, but with strings attached.
From next week, lawyers will not be required to check emails between 10pm and 8am “unless you are working on a matter/s where you consider that to be necessary”. Even then, “for this to work, you need to be reachable by phone”, the code states.
The 37-point document, seen by the Financial Times, acknowledges that “our working environment, while stimulating and rewarding, can bring with it a lack of balance and a sense of always ‘being on’”.
In a sop to bleary-eyed lawyers, participants on video calls will be allowed to turn off their cameras between the hours of 8pm and 8am.
Emails need not be checked more than once on a Friday evening and more than a couple of times on Saturday and Sunday, unless work demands it.
Lawyers at the firm welcomed efforts to improve working conditions, but doubted the scope for significant change.
“Ultimately, the client comes first,” said one associate. “We’re a bit like a five-star hotel. We’re very expensive . . . [clients know] that if you call room service at 2am for a sundae, you’ll get one.”
A partner said: “During the pandemic, there was no demarcation in people’s days, the more junior people just didn’t know when to stop . . . We sometimes need to empower people to behave like normal human beings and have their own expectations of a life.”
However, he added that there were limits. “The world we work in is suitably competitive that if you don’t provide people with what they want, then other people will.”
The new rules at Slaughter and May are part of a broader overhaul of pay and working conditions as the firm tries to underline a point of difference in a fiercely competitive hiring market, triggered by the growth of deep-pocketed US law firms in the City.
Slaughter and May increased pay for its newly qualified lawyers to £115,000, up from £107,500 in May, but remains some way behind the sums on offer for London-based associates at US firms.
This article has been updated to correct the timing of the video call policy