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ANALYSIS: What Lawyers Think of Their Employers’ Russia Response (1)

Aug. 30, 2022, 9:00 AM

In the wake of Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, US law firms and corporations have made major operational changes in response, including closing offices and ending business operations in Russia. Bloomberg Law’s second State of Practice survey, conducted in June and July, gave attorneys the opportunity to weigh in on what (if anything) their employers did in response to the war.

Every single attorney whose employer had business operations in Russia before Feb. 24 said their legal organization curtailed business or development in some way. But only half said they are satisfied with what their companies had done.

The survey’s Russia–Ukraine war-related questions were optional for survey-takers, and 159 of the 383 total respondents opted to answer the question asking if their organization has, or ever had, operations in Russia. Approximately 20% of these respondents worked for legal organizations that did business in Russia before the war began. This amounts to 32 attorneys—19 at corporations, 11 at law firms, and 2 at not-for-profits. A group that size is certainly not a quorum of the industry, but it still provides a good glimpse into the ways organizations have handled the ongoing crisis.

Half (16) of the 32 respondents reported that their companies closed offices or completely exited Russia in response to the Russia–Ukraine war (and a 17th said their employer withdrew prior to the invasion). Another six respondents said their organizations temporarily suspended business in Russia, and five said their organizations significantly scaled back operations. Four respondents worked for companies that continued substantive business operations, but these organizations still postponed future development and investment plans. Not even one attorney reported that their organizations maintained “business as usual.”

Going Public With Russia Responses?

Even though withdrawing from Russia was likely financially difficult and emotionally painful as companies severed ties with longstanding colleagues, these responses are not surprising, given the risk of international sanctions and a general sense—as Winston & Strawn put it in a March public statement—that exiting was “simply the right thing to do.”

Such public statements on the war were common among the survey respondents’ organizations, with 23 of the 32 respondents saying that their companies made public statements about the war either before or after curtailing business operations or plans. However, eight respondents noted that their organizations provided no statement (and one respondent declined to answer the question). Considering the real threat to the physical safety of those attorneys located in current or former Russian offices, refraining from making a statement—or making a statement only after Russian operations have been halted—makes sense from an employer’s point of view.

Potential Negative Impact on Attorney Satisfaction?

Answers also varied when attorneys were asked for their personal opinions about their organization’s actions. Only half of the 32 respondents reported some satisfaction with their organization’s response to the Russia-Ukraine war. Fourteen attorneys reported they were satisfied with the response, and two were slightly satisfied. But two attorneys described themselves as unsatisfied and five as slightly unsatisfied. Additionally, seven said they were neutral towards their organization’s response, and two did not answer the question.

Respondents didn’t say whether they thought the Russia responses were unsatisfactory because they went too far or because they did not go far enough. But what could be driving the mixed satisfaction levels, at least in part, is the effect that their organizations’ actions are actually having on business operations. For those attorneys who reported any impact (respondents could also select “not sure” or “no impact”), the negative impact appears to outweigh the positive.

Although more attorneys saw the impact on their organization’s reputation as positive than negative, the balance of responses regarding finances, operations, and volume of work were decidedly negative.

As time goes on, some organizations that pulled out of Russia may resume operations there. Prior to making such a decision, it is advisable for organizations to survey their attorneys for their opinions on any re-engagement. As lawyers leave or switch jobs during the Great Resignation, companies should make sure they are not giving their employees another reason to jump ship.

(Updated to remove connections between the survey results and the author’s personal experiences.)

Related content is available for free on ourIn Focus: Lawyer Well-Beingpage. Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our Surveys, Reports & Data Analysis, Legal Operations, and In Focus: Lawyer Developmentpages.

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