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Law firms and permanent remote working

Law firms and permanent remote working

Max Alexander-Jones

21/07/2021

Is working from home here to stay?

This blog post will continue with the idea that I covered in a previous article of mine regarding law firms’ approach to working from home. This time, I will focus on the more practical issues and actions law firms have already taken, rather than the theoretical effects that my previous article covered.

Beginning work this summer made me realise just how much more convenient working from home is compared to being in the office. Although being in the office certainly has its benefits, such as interacting with colleagues, there seems to be no reason why working in the office full time should be forced on employees. Further, there is plenty of evidence supporting the idea that productivity increases when people can work from home. One such example comes from a study conducted by Standford on 16,000 workers. Over nine months, a 13% increase in productivity was measured, resulting from a quieter, more convenient working environment with fewer breaks being taken by employees. In the same study, employees reported improved work satisfaction and attrition rates were 50% lower.

Therefore, it is no surprise to see that many top law firms have allowed their employees to permanently work from home even when covid-19 restrictions ease. As part of new agile working policies, Linklaters, Norton Rose Fulbright, Taylor Wessing, Herbert Smith Freehills, Squire Patton Boggs and Dentons have given their employees the green light to work from home in some shape or form. While most firms are only operating this under a hybrid policy, some are backing full-time working from home. The firms with a ‘bums on seats’ culture are the ones who are still encouraging employees to mostly work from the office. Despite some firms still encouraging this, it is refreshing to see a proactive approach being taken in the legal industry, even though it is in a limited fashion. Dentons operates as an outlier, with the fifth largest law firm by revenue globally, allowing all its UK, Irish and Middle Eastern staff to permanently choose where they work every day of the week. Dentons UKIME Managing Director Lisa Sewell said: “Choice is the cornerstone of our approach to the future of work. We want to give our people the freedom to choose the right mix for them of working from home or in the office.” She continued to say that the offices would likely be used for client meetings and connecting with colleagues.

Advantages of remote working

According to the Lawyer Monthly, employees at Freshfields, Linklaters, Dentons, and Norton Rose Fulbright have been allowed to conduct 50% of their work at home, including trainees. A potential benefit of allowing permanent working from home is that it could increase the potential pool of candidates. Attracting a wider talent pool will ultimately result in a higher quality workforce, which will generate an increase in firm profits. Soon law firms will be more desirable if they offer flexible working solutions, compared to demanding face time. Having flexible working conditions in place will mean that candidates are no longer restricted to the City or even the country of their employer! Instead, law firms will be able to entertain candidates from all around the globe, increasing the chance that they will be able to find the most suitable candidate for the job, rather than simply the most convenient candidate. Another benefit of permanent working from home derives from minimising staff turnover. It is undeniable that having more control over working conditions increases employee satisfaction, hence decreasing the likelihood of employees quitting. With this increased loyalty, the firm will benefit from their experience and be able to reap their investments for longer – especially when considering trainees.

The limitations of remote working

One major issue that has been raised against permanent remote working is the effect it will have on trainee solicitors. If senior members of a firm were to take full advantage of their working from home allowance, how will junior members learn? After all, leaning across a desk to ask a question is made mightily harder when not in the office. This issue stems from a worry about the quality of legal services offered in future. If today’s senior staff are unable to be that source of teaching that they once were, juniors will not learn as much as they can. Then in future, when the juniors become the seniors, the general quality of services offered will drop. Moreover, this problem is circular, continuing into the generation beyond that and always stunting the potential growth of trainees.

Is there a future for remote working?

Ultimately, whether a permanent or even hybrid, form of working from home will be beneficial will only become clear over the next 10 to 15 years. I believe that coronavirus has the potential to change the workplace since the invention and widespread use of emails. With all the resources that firms have at their disposal, they have the potential to adapt and make remote working successful, the question is whether they want to.