Survey Results of Economic Impact of COVID-19 and Action Steps
As we know, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely devastated industries, companies and employees, disrupting businesses and our lives. Law firms in Singapore are no exception. A number of them (based on growing anecdotal feedback) are facing fundamental existential and sustainability questions. I do not need to exaggerate the problem. It is what it is in terms of stark reality. Our recent COVID-19 Survey saw a meaningful return of 13 per cent of our membership (777 members) polled in the fortnight before the Circuit Breaker ended. The numbers were meaningful and representative in terms of lawyers’ seniority, size of practices sizes and law firm designations. The relevant top line economic results are:
- 70 per cent of the respondents reported a decrease in workload
- For the 10 per cent reporting an increased workload, more than 3/4ths attributed it to existing matters that they had (whether wholly or in part). In other words, even for this silver lining, overwhelming majority were reliant on historical matters to sustain their work-in-progress and billings
- Close to half reported that their law firms experienced revenue interruption or shortage
- 1/3rd of the respondents stated that one of the greatest adverse impacts on their firm was their inability to source new clients or work due to the pandemic
- Close to 1/3rd reported a cashflow crunch
- 28 per cent reported actual or possibly potential paycuts
- Close to two-thirds have experienced a negative impact on their international legal practice
The Economic Action Council convened earlier in the week to review these findings and fine tune recommendations of “low hanging fruit” of practical help to stimulate resilience and improve economic health of our law firms. These will be shared at a virtual townhall this quarter and rolled out. All these are of course over and above the financial stimulus (free webinars, free job ads, free or discounted law firm directory advertising and discounted and waived membership fees) rolled out by the Law Society as well as non-financial outreach which operates at multifaceted, ongoing levels (ongoing governmental policy advocacy, Bar-Bench dialogue for different practice bars to iron out kinks during post-CB court hearings, tech offerings via Techcelerate, our Tech Facilitator Scheme, Practice Consult, Relational Mentorship and well-being initiatives.
Mental Health and Adaptability
The last point is linked to our mental health. We face uncertainty at so many levels day in and day out in our present waking moments and part of the problem is there appears to be no end in sight. Perhaps, the only certainty we have is uncertainty. I personally had an epiphany reading an interesting piece on adaptability as being our most essential skill in the COVID-19 world.1Elizabeth Heath, “Adaptability may be your most essential skill in the covid-19 world” (Washington Post, 26 May 2020) The author quotes Laurie Leinwand, a licensed professional counsellor, who shares a few insightful points :
- “…adaptability [is] the ability to be creative and flexible in the face of new situations.”
- “We have to let go of the need to plan from A to Z … and learn to be OK with planning from A to B”
- learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable is what will get us through it”
In the rest of this message, I write to appeal to you in this message in a way I have not done before on a critical new initiative embarked by our Council.
The Compassion Fund
To continue its compassionate outreach efforts to stimulate resilience, the Law Society of Singapore has set up the LawSoc-SBF Foundation Compassion Fund (the Fund) as part of new financial outreach initiatives to offer one-off financial aid and one-stop referral support to employees in need within the industry. Among the principal beneficiaries we aim to help are mid to lower income wage earners (including law firm staff) (i) impacted by the current situation; or (ii) faced with sudden and unexpected personal or family adversity directly or indirectly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As you will readily appreciate, the nexus of this new fund is with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fund seeks to catalyse compassion in the community of lawyers. Through both financial and non-financial micro-support via the Fund, we want to encourage our members and law firms to build on a common platform for employees to seek help and be supported by caring employers and co-workers to cope with the lingering and lasting effects of COVID-19 that we are all grappling with.
The legal fraternity, with each of us doing our part, will move with compassion for, and stand in solidarity together with, employees in need. To that end, we sincerely request you to give to the LawSoc-SBF Foundation Compassion Fund. Donations will qualify for 2.5x tax deduction. In addition, the SBF Foundation will match $1 for every $1 raised, capped at $200,000 before or by 1 September 2020.
This is a pioneering effort by the legal profession, of the legal profession and for the legal profession. We look forward to your strong support to build a nurturing and caring workforce. Our common goal is compassion from the inside out to reach out and touch the lives of the most severely impacted in our profession who are sometimes found within our very law firms.
Our donation form is available here for your kind consideration and response, on or before 21 August 2020. Should you require clarifications on the Fund and how to contribute, please do not hesitate to contact our Membership Department at [email protected].
What is unique about this Fund is the outreach to (among others) law firm employees who could be among the hardest hit in this pandemic. Let’s spare a thought for them too. This is a time for those of us who have to think of the have nots.