Hybrid working or a return to the office full time: what does the future look like for law firms?

updated on 19 March 2021

Law firms transitioned to remote working just over a year ago as a result of the covid-19 pandemic, with government guidance confirming that the work from home ‘where you can’ policy will remain in place until 21 June at the earliest.

Since the pandemic’s outbreak, a number of firms have revealed plans to adopt more flexible working and cut office space, but concerns have been raised about hybrid working policies impacting a firm’s culture, its ability to offer the best training to junior lawyers and to work effectively as teams and with clients, according to Law.Com.

While emphasising the importance of culture and personal development, magic circle firm Allen & Overy has forecast that around 40% of its work will be conducted remotely, following the easing of lockdown restrictions in June. The firm aims to continue supporting its “people to work flexibly on an ongoing basis” and predicts that the “office will remain incredibly important in terms of preserving our culture and community in providing a space for personal development”, according to a firm spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer set out an “interim approach”, which permits its staff in London and Manchester to work from home 50% of the time once restrictions have been lifted. Culture and personal development were also cited by Freshfields as important factors: “Our guidance follows feedback from colleagues who signalled a clear preference for more flexibility but also recognises the importance of in-person interaction to our culture, personal development and client engagement,” said London Office Managing Partner Claire Willis. 

Last year, Linklaters revealed that its employees will have the option to work from home 20-50% of the time – an option extended to its employees across the world.

Despite City firms implementing hybrid working policies to come into effect post-pandemic, will they be set to stay?

The government’s ‘Covid-19 Response – Spring 2021’ offers some insight: “Social distancing is difficult and damaging for businesses and, as a result, it is important to return to as near to normal as quickly as possible. Ahead of Step 4, as more is understood about the impact of vaccines on transmission and a far greater proportion of the population has been vaccinated, the Government will complete a review of social distancing measures and other long-term measures that have been put in place to limit transmission. The results of the review will help inform decisions on the timing and circumstances under which rules on 1m+, face masks and other measures may be lifted. The review will also inform guidance on working from home - people should continue to work from home where they can until this review is complete.”

The government is set to review its working from home guidance a week prior to 21 June.