A founding partner’s personal reflections on 2020: the Bolt Burdon pandemic story
This is my final Bolt Burdon Christmas before I retire in March 2021. I am delighted to write our e-news this week and next and share some thoughts. This week I want to share our own Bolt Burdon story of the pandemic. Next week I will share my hopes for the wider world for 2021.
When we celebrated the arrival of 2020, we were very optimistic about the year ahead. I was expecting my final year to be a good one. By early March we had an ambitious plan for the new financial year, and were looking at good growth and profitability.
By mid-March everything had changed. The UK had just hit 100 deaths from Coronavirus and these were increasing exponentially. Schools were closed and Glastonbury was cancelled. Talk was that the UK would follow other European countries into lockdown. Our Leadership Team prepared an emergency budget as it became clear lockdown was imminent. We tried to estimate what would happen to our income – we guessed it might halve. We immediately cut all unnecessary expenditure. We budgeted for zero profit.
On 23 March the first lockdown was announced and we instructed all but two of our staff to work from home. Thankfully, due to our flexible working policy introduced back in 2003, we were all used to this and well set up with equipment.
However, working from home in lockdown turned out to be very difficult for many of our people. Some had to cope with client work alongside home schooling, some struggled to find a quiet corner in busy households, some were lonely and many were fearful of Covid for themselves or vulnerable relatives living with them.
Our skeleton team left in the office had to face public transport and worked long hours to scan incoming post and find documents to support those at home.
Our worst financial fears were realised as the property market was closed down – our income plunged deeply. Many of our staff went on furlough leave. All were asked to accept a salary reduction so that we could save jobs. Without exception everyone agreed. We applied for a government loan to help see us through.
We quickly learnt a new vocabulary: lockdown, furlough, business interruption loans and bubbles. We all learnt to use Zoom.
When the property market reopened in May, fuelled by the stamp duty holiday in early July, our conveyancers were asked to return from furlough and work harder than ever before to ensure our clients were able to take advantage of the scheme.
Several of our staff have had the disease and we are grateful that all have recovered. However, over 60,000 people have died and we send our condolences to all those reading this who have lost a friend or family member to this terrible disease.
We are all thankful for the amazing bravery of our NHS workers and other key workers. I would like to say a public “thank you” to our own staff who have risen to the challenge of continuing to provide legal services during this very difficult time. Without exception, they have shown amazing commitment and resilience and a fierce determination to continue to deliver top level service to our clients in difficult circumstances.
We have now been working from home for 9 months and I am delighted to say, due to the enormous efforts of all of our people, Bolt Burdon is once again looking in good shape. Certainly, this won’t be the year we expected, but we have been able to reinstate salaries and we do expect to make some profit.
As I write this vaccination has started – my mum has already had her first dose – and we are optimistic that we will be able to return to the office and our normal sociable Bolt Burdon life in the spring. No doubt there will be a belated Christmas Party! The future looks bright.
So I close by once again saying ‘thank you’ and wishing all of our staff and their families, and all clients and friends, a very Merry Christmas.