Thinking about working from home? So is everyone else…
Back in January 2020, a group of ILTA volunteers gathered (in person) to discuss content for the coming year. One topic was the future of remote working at law firms. At that time, many firms already allowed remote working—some operated as fully remote firms and others allowed remote working a few days week either firm-wide or on a case-by-case basis. We also knew that while some firms embraced the concept of a fully remote work environment, others felt it would negatively impact corporate culture and productivity. We thought it would be an interesting exercise to investigate the future of remote working and its acceptance by law firms.
Then Covid-19 happened. This was no longer a thought exercise.
Most firms had no choice but to go remote in March 2020. They overcame and adapted quickly to the new normal of a completely remote environment. Many firms did a good job, some struggled. The immediate goals were straightforward—maintain the status quo while keeping everyone safe and productive. We quickly realized we were in it for the long haul and we had to move past merely maintaining the status quo and toward adapting, overcoming, and moving the ball forward. The results was that adoption and acceptance of remote technology has vaulted years ahead. We are still far off from a “normal” post-Covid-19 world, but one of the topics de jour has been what will law firms do when things return to normal?
There are many benefits to working remotely and to working in an office. The “correct” answer does not have to be either/or, it can be a hybrid. The “correct” answer is also different for every firm because every organization has a different personality and different needs. The goal of this blog post is simply to set forth some issues to consider, underscore that there are pros and cons to each issue, and to get the conversation started.
There are benefits to in-person meetings for collaboration. Random run-ins with colleagues in the office may result in beneficial conversations that lead to additional collaboration, work, or even new solutions for clients. For law firms with multiple offices across the US and the world, most cross-office staffed matters have attorneys collaborating “remotely” even when they are in their office. After Covid-19 forced most attorneys remote, many have become even more comfortable using videoconferencing technology, which, when used properly (including actually being on video), can be extremely effective in fostering collaboration when in-person meetings are not possible.
Young attorneys learn by working with senior attorneys. Traditionally, this has been accomplished through in-person interactions, sitting in an office, asking questions, listening to calls, etc. Many consider it less of a hurdle to walk by an office, establish eye contact, and strike up a conversation—as opposed to calling someone on the phone. If professional development is ignored in a work from home environment, younger attorneys will not have the same benefits afforded to previous generations. Being remote, many senior attorneys and human resources professionals have recognized this deficiency and some have found ways formalize meetings and have development conversations.
Remote work reduces time in transit for many attorneys, which frees up more time to work, or to spend more time with their family, friends, pets, exercising, etc. Loss of commuting time may also be considered a negative for attorneys that use that time to relax, unwind, catch up on podcasts, socialize, or complete mundane tasks.
Some attorneys already had a great at-home working environment, some have set them up because of Covid-19, and some still have limited space or poor working conditions at home. Some firms have given stipends to cover Internet or allow the purchase of additional monitors and other useful hardware.
Some firms have allowed employees to return to the office with strict rules on social distancing, but most don’t expect a “normal” return to work any time soon. In most instances, less real estate means less overhead, even when you account for additional expenses incurred to assist attorneys working at home.
There are many more issues to consider. Some managing partners have indicated that they cannot wait to get everyone back into the office, whereas others have indicated they see the benefits of working remotely. The bottom line is that firms need to consider what works best for them and allows them to provide their clients with the best legal representation possible. My crystal ball did not show many firms going completely remote, but did show some firms adopting a hybrid model comprising some days at home and some in the office. Time will tell.