The Economic Impact of COVID-19 May Encourage You to Reflect on Your Career Planning
The coronavirus is having an impact across industries, as well as the legal sector
The impact of the coronavirus cannot be overemphasized, both for the global economy and for aspects of the legal system. In the past few months, courts around the world responded to the pandemic by relying more heavily on remote hearings and general court closures, while governments have put in place travel restrictions. In Asia, the Singapore government advised its citizens to defer all travel abroad on 18 March 2020, after only having advised to defer all non-essential travel abroad 3 days before. These measures have reduced cross-border meetings and led to a slowdown in business.
The rapid pace with which the coronavirus spread in Asia, and is still spreading in many parts of the world, has disrupted lawyers’ workflows. In the commercial and corporate practice areas, for example, there has been a drop in the number of new enquiries and temporary pauses on instructions on many client matters. As a result, current deals are not closing and the uncertainty on the number and nature of future deals coming up is high. According to the Hong Kong Bar Association, in April this year, “[t]he legal sector is affected severely by the pandemic, resulting in a sharp decline of income for solicitors and barristers”.
The impact of economic uncertainty on lawyers’ jobs
On a personal level, for in-house lawyers and those in private practice, one of the most daunting impacts caused by the economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus is the risk of being subject to redundancy, or being unable to obtain a job due to frozen headcounts.
In Hong Kong, there is no regulatory framework governing the redundancy process and employers are not required to consult their employees before making them redundant. The Employment Ordinance specifies circumstances in which it is unlawful for an employer to terminate an employee’s employment and that it cannot be discriminatory, but the employer is free to choose who they wish to make redundant.
Very often, as in Singapore, employees requesting to go on leave due to caretaking responsibilities are not specifically protected; rather, employers are simply encouraged by governments to treat them reasonably and consistently in accordance with their contract and the employer’s internal policies.
In some countries measures have been introduced by the government to compensate workers whose jobs are at risk of being affected. In Hong Kong, the government rolled out a HK$81 billion Employment Support Scheme, providing wage subsidies to eligible employers who promise not to make workers redundant. However, there is a cap on the wage subsidies for each employer, and because this subsidy is provided to employers is to retain employees and avoid redundancy, it will not prevent employers from reducing their employees’ salary (albeit probably restricted by employment contracts), requesting employees to take unpaid leave, or to exhaust their annual leave. According to the Employment Ordinance, employers are allowed to indicate the dates when its employees take annual leave if it gives 14 days’ notice. While retention is guaranteed, perhaps not so much protection is given to lawyers’ compensation. With so much economic uncertainty and limited government protection, many lawyers may feel that traditional jobs in the legal industry are less stable than they originally imagined.
A new normal for the legal industry
Even though Asia is starting to recover from the coronavirus crisis, the rates in which new cases are confirmed in the Americas and many parts of Europe are still high. This means that many companies with headquarters in those countries are still focused on cutting budgets and freezing headcounts. Due to the impact of the coronavirus, perhaps a more sustainable workforce model for the future is needed.
At Axiom, it has been said that “flexibility has been part of our employment model for our lawyers from the beginning”. The nature of Axiom’s engagement model, in which lawyers are embedded with in-house teams at different client companies, means that they are well-adapted to changes in the working environment. Because of their deep level of commercial expertise, Axiom lawyers often have experience working in different industries and practice areas. In addition, Axiom’s legal talent is prepared for work conditions brought on by the pandemic: before 2020, one third of Axiom engagements were already remote, and earned high levels of client satisfaction.
Axiom also empowers lawyers who come to us at different phases of their careers to choose how and when to work, and matches them with companies and engagements that align to their priorities, skills, and goals. The flexibility in this arrangement ensures that lawyers have more control over the direction of their legal career, that it meets their priorities, and provides more stability in times of uncertainty. As Hong Kong-based Axiom lawyer Julia Mac notes, “[t]he great thing about Axiom has been the flexibility. They are open to how you want to work – whether you want to work back-to-back engagements, or you want to take time off. They understand the value of taking a break. You come back with a refreshed mindset”. This is done by leveraging our broad and diverse client base and employment protection offered by Axiom.
Because of the impact of the coronavirus, in-house leaders are more than ever under pressure to deliver business results, while operating with tight budgets and headcounts. Axiom, with its high-quality legal talent who possess top-tier law firm and in-house experience, provides flexible talent solutions to manage resourcing gaps and provide additional expertise or capacity, on demand. Axiom's employment model enables you to choose your engagements and take time off when you wish. If you are looking for more flexible career opportunities, apply to join our team today.
Career planning amid COVID-19; redundancy may only be a state of being too traditional. Find out how Axiom can be part of your alternative legal career path.