Peter Scott: 'We believe that if we keep the firm together we will maintain the strength of the business to take immediate advantage of the upturn when it arrives.' Shutterstock
Norton Rose Fulbright (NRF) is asking staff to volunteer to reduce their working hours by up to 20% over the next 12 months as part of a package of measures in response to Covid-19.
The firm's Europe, Middle East and Asia arm is also deferring partner distributions and bonuses and employee salary rises and bonuses for the foreseeable future.
The flexible working scheme - Flex - mirrors a similar programme launched in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis and will run for a year from 20 April.
The sign-up process is taking place over the next two weeks and while there is no guarantee volunteers will be asked to reduce their hours — as that will depend on business needs — the firm says it needs 75% of eligible employees to take part for the programme to be economically viable.
EMEA managing partner Peter Scott, who only officially took up the role yesterday (1 April), said the scheme was designed to safeguard jobs “as far as possible” by enabling the firm to respond quickly to changes in the level and type of work.
“It is likely that not all parts of the business will be adversely affected by the current situation, so it is quite possible that employees who have signed up to the scheme in some parts of the business will not be required to reduce their working hours,” he said.
“Flex worked exceptionally well for us a decade ago, which is why we are proposing a similar flexible working strategy aimed at keeping our workforce intact. We believe that if we keep the firm together we will maintain the strength of the business to take immediate advantage of the upturn when it arrives and provide our clients with continuity of service.”
The scheme will require staff to agree temporary changes in their employment terms and conditions.
Employees at the lower end of the salary spectrum will see less of a salary reduction, which could be as little as 5%. Benefits will be unaffected.
NRF is the latest of a raft of firms to introduce measures to shore up their finances in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, including Allen & Overy, which is freezing salaries, deferring some scheduled bonus payments and increasing partner capital levels, and Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft, which has suspended partner distributions and cut salaries by up to 25%.
Further reading on the Covid-19 pandemic