Lawyers are great at asking questions, but how are they at answering them? Bloomberg Law is talking with lawyers and other legal industry players to find out what their lives look like in the age of work from home.
Tim House, a senior partner at Allen & Overy, is the head of U.S. operations for the firm. He has more than 30 years of experience litigating and resolving complex disputes or managing investigations for the firm’s major international clients and their senior executives. House’s cross border regulatory experience includes all the principal U.S., European and Asian financial services authorities.
Bloomberg Law spoke to House about his transatlantic experience of the coronavirus pandemic and the hazards of eating his own cooking while quarantined. He also shared how he works in a house with four adult children and their partners and how his firm is helping clients as businesses prepare to reopen.
(Editor’s note: Remarks have been edited for clarity and length)
Bloomberg Law: Describe your day to day routine.
Tim House: My routine has been through three phases, each with its own individual opportunities and challenges. I spent the first phase in solitary confinement in our apartment in downtown Manhattan, while my wife and family were locked down in the U.K. I’m not sure I have ever been as productive. This lasted until mid-May, when visa needs meant I had to return to the U.K. Upon my arrival, I was locked down for 14 days in my eldest son’s empty flat in London, pending admission to the family home in the south of England. Solitary confinement ended after nine weeks and I joined my family—we have four children all in late teens or early 20s who have been joined in lockdown by their respective partners, along with a guest dog.
BL: What is the hardest thing about working from home?
TH: Eating my own cooking for nine straight weeks in two of the world’s finest cities for restaurants.
BL: What is something your firm is doing that has been really helpful?
TH: There’s been the rapid establishment of a global Covid-19 response team, which was brought together to address the fast-evolving situation that different countries and clients are experiencing in different phases and in different ways. In the U.S., we have a core group of finance, corporate, litigation, regulatory, and labor partners who are providing input to the response team, and disseminating this knowledge so that all of the firm’s partners can be equipped to spot client issues. Added to this mix is our advanced delivery and solutions team, who are providing both legal and regulatory tech solutions, as well as consultancy.
BL: How have your clients’ needs changed?
TH: There is no playbook for this experience. The first phase was firefighting on immediate issues in supply chains, workforce disruption, remote working, contractual and market issues. The second phase was understanding, advising on, and deploying all the various stability and stimulus packages. Now we are into the phase of anticipating the lifting of lock-down and a return to work in a new and different way.
BL: What kinds of technology are you using? Any challenges while working remotely?
TH: I am set up nearly identically to how I would be in the office, which has been a true benefit. We boosted the WiFi as much as we could at home to cater to eight people all Zooming/WebExing for much of the day. I have everything set on U.S. time with my cell and desk phone all directly connected through Jabber, so it really has operated extremely smoothly.
BL: What is your number one piece of advice about working from home?
TH: If you are on your own, give yourself a break — set some clear time aside when you are not glued to the screen, and do something that creates a real distraction and a change of scene. In my case, it was a daily run along the Hudson River Park, and the painstaking preparation of a tasteless dinner. If you are not on your own, give other people a break. And if you are with a family of eight opinionated adults who hadn’t planned to live together in close proximity ever again— expect to have no authority over anything and no influence in any discussion.
BL: What’s your favorite working from home story that made you laugh, shake your head, or just throw up your hands?
TH: The thing that I shake my head at is that after 35 or more years as a litigator, and 25 years as a parent, I am finding it well beyond my power to resolve disputes between eight adults in one house as to whose turn it is to shop, cook, and clean—something all law firm leaders are well prepared to deal with.
BL: What do you do to de-stress or take your mind off work when you’re trapped inside (or limited in where you can go)?
TH: I de-stress by imagining a life where I would be getting up at 6.00 a.m., iron a shirt, put on a suit, get on the E-Line, and then grabbing a coffee from the espresso bar in the office. Contrast that with today, where I walk out into my garden in a t-shirt and shorts and plan which flower bed will be weeded by which child if they expect to drink beer from my fridge in the evening.