2020 has undoubtably brought many challenges, it has also driven change, particularly the en masse transition to working from home. Countless industries have adapted in impressive fashion and the legal profession in particular has been a standout success story in this regard. Traditionally slow to adopt change, the work from home (WFH) move has typified that lawyers aren’t just coping but are working more effectively than ever, here are some of the reasons why:
This is dead time for most of us at the start and end of the day. While some lawyers are able to use a portion of this time (if they could get a seat) responding to email or drafting documents for the vast majority it is at least 2 hours of the day that was neither for family or professional life. WFH has created an extra 2 hours+ to apportion to work or family, by removing the commute, in essence giving lawyers the gift of more hours in the day.
2. Greater flexibility
While some lawyers are lucky enough to have complete control over their day the majority were working on a fairly rigid schedule, much of which was out of their control. By working remotely lawyers have been able to take back control of their time to a far greater extent. The arbitrary 9am-5pm (or 10am till 8pm if you are a city lawyer) work schedule is now pretty meaningless as long as the business or client needs are met; lawyers are working when suits them best and are able to organise time better than ever no stigma attached.
3. Lawyers are grown ups
The idea that someone senior; a partner or manager needs to look over your shoulder to ensure you are working is frankly demeaning even for junior lawyers. The industry is a professional one that requires independent work and academic rigour as par for the course. Understanding that lawyers at all levels can be trusted not to abuse being out of the office has been eye opening for some and pleasing affirmation for others. Treating lawyers as adults makes them more responsible and has undoubtably improved overall efficiency.
Associates in top tier US firms get private offices often from day 1, most associates, in-house lawyers and even a good percentage of partners however were working open plan pre-corona. The main reason for this is cost, companies can dress it up as being a more effective solution for communication but in reality, it is expensive for everyone to have their own private workspace in central London. As the litany of home office pictures on LinkedIn show we have almost universally carved out some private space at home. This has meant less ambient noise, gossip and for many of us less distraction and greater privacy.
5. Location, Location, Location
We all have personal lives; it is now easier than ever (good or bad) to fully fuse the personal and professional. Lawyers can work more effectively without neglecting family obligations; Conference calls from the garden with kids nearby or emails from a family members home mean the work gets done from a location that suits you. Many have migrated to the countryside in the UK or Europe and are seamlessly working in a way that would not have been thought possible before.
6. Rapid communication
Organising meetings and getting in senior colleagues and client’s calendars is more straightforward than ever. Virtual meetings generally are not expected to last as long as in person meets either so more can be compressed into a day’s activity. If your client or colleague is in a geographically different location, no in person meeting is even expected anymore so these interactions in particular have really benefited from more rapid response.
7. Less politics
My personal favourite, this doesn’t just apply to lawyers, without the office there is far less politicking. When interacting virtually it is undeniably more about the work and less about the little (sometimes onerous) interactions that make up daily office life. Someone that really irritates you (you might not even work with them) no longer needs to be interacted with or contact can be easily minimised. More time working and less being irritated or playing a relationship game for promotion or money means lawyers are in many cases working better than ever on their day job.
There is a cornucopia of ways that working from home has made things better for lawyers. This list is not exhaustive and does not apply to everyone as a catchall, however, hopefully having “work from home” as an option after the health crisis passes into memory will leave us with lasting benefit within the legal profession and beyond.
Author: Ken Collins is a legal and compliance search partner with Greenway Collins covering the EMEA region from London.