JusContractus: Pioneering law-from-home in times of Covid Interview with Payal Chawla, Founder JusContractus

Payal -Payal Chawla +91 9811777786 payal chawla@juscontractus.com and the all-woman law firm she has built over the past 6 years. Payal feels the diversity push for women in Indian society is not enough. She said that if you can target a woman of privilege and resources at the top caste then what hope is there for a woman of lower means and less education? Most women donÕt even know their rights and are unprotected. She started her lawfirmÑJuscontractusÑin 2013 and is focusing entirely on commercial and corporate law. The firm has never lost a cast to date and Payal and the 7 women she has gathered in the firm intend to keep that record. She chose commercial law to prove that women can do the hardcore law of commercial and international work. She does not want to be perceived as that NGO lawyerÑa woman fighting for women only issues. She doesnÕt want to be seen as soft. (Though she does pro bono cases for women in cases of domestic violence and for NGOs.) In the beginning everyone told her and her young lawyers that no one would take them seriously without a man at the firm but that is not the case. The firm was immediately profitable and their reputation is growing. Detractors told them that women could never work with each other without conflict but in fact they have created a humane space with office hours of 10-6:30 and working from home that serves everyone to have a more balanced life. The young lawyers are highly motivated and often work long hours at home. There is no conflict and they all say this is family in the best spirit of the word. The work is diverse and so a great proving ground for all Ñ court room, litigation, negotiation. The women say Payal is tough but also a great mentor. They all meet every morning to discuss current cases, news and workload. It is lively and collegial. Snigdha Dash-32 Hina Shaheed Ð 28 Anushka Yador-21 Aastha Maharesh-27 Aastha Bhardwaj-28 Manika (she uses only one name)-23 Anita Gumber-46 (the office manger who has been with Payal from the beginning)

By Women’s Era Magazine

  1. How is JusContractus coping with the changes to the work regime due to the Covid-19 pandemic?

Obviously, this is a difficult time emotionally. But on the work front, we are actually doing quite well. The shift to remote working is a challenging transition for some, but for JusContractus, the work-from-home regime isn’t new.

As an all-women law firm, JusContractus has always sought to provide a safe and level playing field for women at the workplace. Safety and security concerns, coupled with the unbalanced burdens of the household which fall on working women, make the usual law-firm hours truly inequitable towards women. We have therefore limited our in-office timings from 10 a.m. till 6:30 p.m. Of course, being lawyers, we do need to put in additional hours – that’s just the nature of the profession – so we adapted ourselves to work from home. Given the technologies that are available, it is a myth that a physical environment is necessary. Consequently, much of our work regularly happens from our respective homes.

So while it is understandable that many who have never worked from home might grapple to get accustomed to the new normal – and corporations who may not have had work-from-home policies in place might wonder about the impact on their business and work – we at JusContractus are poised to work at the same pace as ever, already being habituated to this shifting regime. We haven’t had to culture a new routine to work from home – the only thing we miss is seeing each other at the office and the social bonding!

  • How does JusContractus deal with remote working, and what practices do you have in place?

JusContractus strongly believes in effective time management and work-life balance. We try and spend the fewest and most productive hours at work. Late evenings or weekends spent at work are not encouraged, and during work hours, everyone is expected to focus on the work. With the sort of technologies in place today, it has become far easier for employees to take their work home. With courts being closed, we are able to depend on our laptops and wi-fi for most of our working needs. All of us have top of the line, Apple laptops and access to internet from home. To connect with each other, we have e-mail and Whatsapp groups, and access to Skype, Google Hangouts, or other video-conferencing facilities, which easily take the place of meetings with clients, or even of internal brainstorming sessions. All our files at JusContractus are digitized, secured and made available to our staff to work on from home. Our work ethic has resulted in effective outcomes regardless of our location of work.

Payal with her son Rayaan – working from home

  • Do you think working from home has a negative impact on efficiency or the quality of work?

Quite the contrary – in fact, efficiency has gone up. We are not wasting time travelling, and we are better rested and more productive. Further, being home can often mean having space to yourself, perhaps in a quieter environment than an office space allows, and significantly more concentration.

  • What kind of habits and structures have helped JusContractus thrive in the WHF regime?

‘Home’ and ‘Work’ are often used in a diametrically opposed manner, and they tend to denote vastly different physical and mental spaces. It is important to change this image of ‘home’ to encompass a work structure as well. This can be aided by defining the physical areas as well as times at which to work, and structuring a routine around it. Being used to working from home, we at JusContractus have carved out and identified our own space and time, where we focus on our work, and set boundaries to balance the things around us. The legal world thrives on deadlines, so even whilst working from home, we are acutely aware of our timelines and deliverables. We also leverage technologies that are easily available to us to create a virtual working community which is just as present and supportive in a work-from-home situation. JusContractus also encourages the flexibility that working from home allows – particularly during this Covid crisis, it is important to note that all members of many households are present at home at all times – which means that the domestic burdens of many women have increased manifold. Understanding the need for flexibility, and focusing on our ultimate productivity and quality of work, lets our work flourish, even in uniquely challenging times such as these.

  • Courts have shut down – how has this affected your practice?

Courts have – very rightly – suspended mainstream functioning temporarily. Only extremely urgent matters may be heard by the Courts through video-conferencing. The Courts have also extended limitation periods, as well as interim orders, for the time being. While we have, in fact, filed and had an urgent matter heard this week before the Delhi High Court, litigation is definitely in the midst of an unusual lull. Since JusContractus is a full-service firm, however, our time is equally taken up by our corporate/transactional matters, which continue to need our keen attention during this crisis. In addition, we regularly write legal articles, focusing our non-work activities on reading, research, and writing, which remain unaffected by the shutdown.

  • What is your view of remote working in the near future?

As with anything new, there will be a learning curve. Certain businesses will, by their nature, be difficult or even impossible to transition to remote working. We are seeing examples of the essential services industries, and medicine, transportation and hospitality, where people are unable to work from home. Further, security and networking challenges post a grim threat to businesses taking their work to their employees’ homes – and the larger the business, the larger the challenge. Still, it is possible that this WHF regime might in some cases outlast the pandemic. It is likely that much of the workforce, of those who are able to work from home, will continue to be as productive, or perhaps more, and those results are bound to have an impact on future policies. This is like a forced trial run for those workplaces. The Covid crisis has definitely alerted the world to the importance of remote working. Let us not forget how solid policies surrounding remote working can benefit the poor, the women, the aged, and the disabled. It is definitely something to seriously consider, even on the other side of this pandemic.

  • Will WFH be the new normal?

We certainly hope so. There are so many benefits. For instance, the air quality is getting better! People are getting much needed rest. That is not to say shutdowns should be the norm. We are already seeing an adverse impact on the economy. But in times of more normalcy, WFH can continue to boost the economy, and at places and in a manner that benefits the society and people as a whole.

Last but not the least, it will empower more women to come into the mainstream work environment, and more men, into the home-work environment – thus, creating a more equitable work environment for men and women, both in and outside their homes.

  • Any last comments?

We hope JusContractus would’ve played a little part in pioneering the WFH revolution.

This interview was printed in Women’s Era Magazine on 27.03.2020. The original interview can be viewed by following the link:


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