Lawyers Ignore Return-to-Office Mandate

Law firms will soon need to decide where exactly they stand on the issue of their lawyers returning to the office. And taking the wrong stance could be costly, as lawyers of all ages, but particularly the younger set, seem to be placing a premium on remote work.

A recent survey by the American Bar Association (ABA) found that 44% of lawyers with 10 years or less of experience say they’ll switch jobs if offered more freedom to work remotely. Meanwhile, 13% of lawyers with 41 years or longer spent in practice say they’d leave their current jobs.

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A separate survey of more than 1,800 partners released in October by recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa found that over two-thirds of partners would like the option to work remotely, with younger partners placing a greater importance on the option. 16% of partners with one to five years of experience say they would quit if offered the ability to work remotely more often, versus 7% for those with 20+ years.

“Firms have been trying for months to increase office attendance, but it appears that these efforts have not resulted in lawyers flocking back to the office,” said Roberta Liebenberg, a co-author of the ABA report. “I don’t envision lawyers returning to the pre-pandemic norm of five days a week in the office, and instead three days in the office will probably remain the norm for a large percentage of lawyers.”

The ABA’s survey of roughly 2,000 lawyers between May 31 and June 15 also found that 89% of firm lawyers and 86% of corporate legal department counsel can do their jobs remotely, compared to 58% of U.S. workers as a whole, according to a report by McKinsey & Company.

And many lawyers are currently taking advantage of this ability. The ABA survey found that about 30% of lawyers are working from home “almost all the time,” while another 40% have a hybrid arrangement – which leaves just 30% trekking to the office almost every day.

While the fact that more lawyers than ever want the option to work remotely is clear, the reason many firms want their lawyers in the office remains fuzzy to some. The best argument is perhaps that in-person training is essential for young lawyers (which would of course require older partners to be in the office to do the training). Another argument for in-person work is that firm culture is lost when no one is in the office.

Some, however, believe firms are being more shrewd with their in-office requirements; that they are testing who really wants a future in big law. “I think firms are nervous people will leave,” said Austin recruiter Karen. “But I also think some firms are using it as a way to weed people out. ”