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Law firm partner workloads increase as remote working makes it more difficult to delegate to juniors and trainees, survey finds

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Many outfits report rise in chargeable hours, especially at senior levels

Partners worked up to 10% harder this year as remote working made it more difficult to delegate to remote working juniors and trainees, a survey has found.

The PwC Law Firms’ Survey 2021, covering 100 UK-headquartered mega-firms, shows that many are experiencing an unexpected boom. Fears of a Covid crash never came to pass, with 97% doing better on revenue and profit than they’d predicted in 2020. Many are enjoying “record profits”.

Graph via PwC Law Firms’ Survey 2021

Some of this is because of partners working harder. Many firms reported a rise in average chargeable hours, especially at partner level. The report suggests that’s because they weren’t able to palm work off on their subordinates as easily.

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“[T]his perhaps reflects an attitude among partners to delegate less work in the lockdown environment as non-chargeable activity (e.g. business development) was reduced, and delegation proved more complex in a remote working environment,” it states.

At the 25 biggest firms, partners unable to escape their computer to glad-handle potential clients increased their chargeable hours by 8-10% on average.

Firms reportedly handled the transition to remote working “very well”, and don’t intend to go back. Most respondents said they expected staff to work remotely 40-60% of the time, and “many firms are expecting to reduce their office footprints”.

Workforce challenges loom, though. Bosses worry about “talent attraction and retention”, especially given the “relentless pressure on salaries being generated by US firms”.

The survey also covers diversity. The proportion of ethnic minority partners inched up a bit, but “the pace of change continues to be of concern”, according to PwC. Female partner representation has “plateaued” outside the top 10 firms surveyed.

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