It is likely that the Covid-19 pandemic will change how we work forever. Technology giants such as Twitter and Facebook have been taking the lead on a permanent shift towards working from home. Siemens, the German conglomerate, has announced a policy of letting its employees work from where they are most productive, whether that be at home or in a co-working space. Slater & Gordon and Dentons announced that they will reduce their City office space in response to an increase in full-time working from home options. Permanent work from home is coming indisputably, it seems!
Before the Covid-19 crisis began, law firms in general were at a crawl in instituting work from home policies. Firms often emphasized their top-tier office space and location, open-door policies and collaborative culture. They invested time and energy into developing and maintaining these characteristics. Many in law firm leadership were resistant to work from home programs because there was an assumption that working remotely would compromise productivity and not allow groups to work collaboratively, with client service deteriorating as a result.
With the rampant effect of Covid-19 on the world, law firms were forced to shut down offices quickly, avoid business travel for in-person meetings and conferences, and to adapt to work from home policies to protect their employees. Most of the internal and client-facing meetings were adapted to video conferencing. Partners and associates had to formulate new systems for themselves to work effectively and efficiently, maintain strong client relationships, and preserve group comradery. Many law firms will shorten and run their summer associate programs remotely. Despite the disturbances, law firms, in general, can operate in a fully remote environment for a significant length of time.
Legal professionals say they can maintain productivity when working remotely, but will law firms with traditional working patterns adapt any flexibility gained after the pandemic?
A recent study by Loeb Leadership finds that more than two-thirds (67%) lawyers of the 25 firms contracted wanted to continue working remotely, if only for one or two days a week. Of associate respondents, 100% said they wanted to continue working remotely in some capacity. RollOnFriday’s survey also found changing attitudes of lawyers and business services staff to working from home. Over 50% of respondents said they preferred to work in the office every day before the pandemic. Looking long term after the pandemic has subsided, over 50% respondents wanted to work from home for most of the week as a permanent arrangement. Our recent LinkedIn poll also echoed the finding: 39% of respondents support full-time work-from-home, 40% support part-time, 19% support it during the crisis, and only 1% voted against. From these surveys it is clear that the majority of legal professional prefer to continue working from home after the pandemic.
How is working remotely impacting law firms? While money remains the bottom line for all law firms globally, firms can benefit greatly from having their staff work remotely. Not every law firm’s offices need to be large, luxurious spaces where all their attorneys are situated. Instead, law firms can choose a more affordable conference space for meeting clients. Also, firms can save money on furniture, parking arrangements, and local gym memberships.
Law firms can maximize resilience to a crisis such as Covid-19 by putting in place effective working from home systems. During the pandemic, all employers, including law firms, need to take guidance from governments, public health bodies, and international organizations to best protect their staff and visitors. Remote working arrangements can also give employees more flexibility to mitigate risk at a personal level, including taking care of their family’s health, children’s schooling, and social distance requirements.
To maximize the benefits and minimize the negatives from working from home arrangements, it is vital to clarify work hour expectations, provide guidelines for how attorneys and other employees should communicate times of unavailability, formalise the technology systems they will use to allow teams to work cohesively and ensure client confidentiality, and offer relevant training for staff in these systems.
The response to the Covid-19 crisis has proved that working from home is one of the most effective options for when firms need adapt their working and staffing arrangements. Whether firms decide to take a more permanent approach to this option in normal times is the question.
 Jamine Hamilton, EXCLUSIVE Five out of ten lawyers want to work from home for good, www. rollonfriday.com, 12 June 2020
Editor: Sam Kenworthy (Director – Head of Private Practice)
Contributor: Fai Choi (Marketing Manager)