City firms facing pressure to axe hybrid working

updated on 24 April 2023

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Elite law firms could be pressured to return to a full five days in the office as larger fee-paying clients crack the whip on their own staff.  

Last week, JPMorgan Chase bosses announced that staff were to return to the office full time “or else”, according to The Times. The demand comes from a fear that workers have become complacent due to the ease of remote working, with employees’ attention spans drifting from their daily tasks because of distractions at home.  

Tony Williams, former managing partner at Clifford Chance, stated that the move back to full-time office working was likely inevitable for lawyers as “clients who are in the office full time will eventually expect their lawyers to do likewise”.  

City firms with prominent banking and finance departments have remained quiet on this evolving situation, with those who’ve remarked on JPMorgan’s announcement being tactful in their replies. A spokesperson for DLA Piper LLP announced its expectation is that those “who can perform their role away from the office” must still “be in the office at least half the time”. While Clifford Chance confirmed this 50% working model to also be its approach in the firm’s hybrid working policy.  

Allen & Overy LLP has implemented a slightly stricter approach, requiring workers to be in the office 60% of the time, with a spokesperson for the firm stating its offices are crucial “in terms of preserving culture and community”.  

Williams also hinted at an arrogance among City law firms when it comes to hybrid working, stating that “some law firms and individual lawyers are still in denial and want to work wherever suits them best”. He believes that once a firm’s large corporate clients return to the office full time, law firms will have no choice but to amend their policies.  

It’s not only private practice firms that are keen to retain a remote model. When asked about its working policies, the Bar Council was particularly blasé – with one spokesperson saying “the number of staff in the office varies from day to day and can range from a handful of people to up to around 50% of the workforce”.  

Both the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) have commented on their lack of requirements to have workers in the office full time. The SRA reported that on an average day somewhere between 20 to 40% of its staff come into the office, allowing it to decrease its need for office space in its Birmingham headquarters.  

The BSB went even further in its praise for hybrid working, stating that it “has no intention of requiring our colleagues to attend the office five days a week because our focus is on productivity and not where people work from”.