Advice

‘How enforceable are work from home policies?’

By on
28

I am thinking of moving a few hours away from London but can I get away with not going into the office?

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, a junior lawyer working for a City outfit in London is curious to know how other firms are policing their WFH policies.

“I’m a junior City lawyer who is hoping relocate away from London, possibly as far out as Birmingham. I have my eye on a really nice place that’s way more affordable than anything you’ll find with a Tube station, but I am worried that WFH policies are going to change and I’ll be left spending hours on regular commutes.”

“My firm currently has a 50% WFH policy, but my team is really relaxed and let me work from home a lot more than half the time. I understand things can change and I was wondering how strictly firms are actually enforcing these policies? Would really appreciate other people’s experiences/thoughts — thanks in advance!”

If you have a career conundrum, email us at team@legalcheek.com.

28 Comments

Anon

Not at all and they shouldn’t be because law firms already have a better tracker of productivity than almost any other industry, utilisation!

(31)(5)

Old partner

Everyone should be back 100%. Junior lawyers say they’re busy but I reckon most are just on their sofas watching Netflix or something.

(18)(142)

Anon

So how can they be charging out hours to clients , there must be some work product to have to show for it?

(40)(3)

2PQE

My department head is really accommodating. Basically get the work done and I couldn’t care if you were sat on the moon.

(60)(2)

Elon Musk

Thank goodness for Starlink.

Also, I am buying Clifford Chance ur welcome

(30)(5)

Grizzled Lev Fin

The question you have to consider is – how would the firm respond if they went to permanent work from the office and I said no?

If you’re at Kirkland and want to work remotely permanently, you’d be fired. If you’re at a firm like Pinsents that struggle to recruit and, consequently, can’t afford to lose associates, then you don’t have to worry about being fired, but you can’t blindly assume that it won’t hurt your career.

Progression in this job involves navigating office politics and partners can be some of the most petty and vindictive people. Butting heads with management should only be done when the risks have been considered. If your head of team is pissed off that you’re refusing to return to the office, do you expect them to go to bat for you in the next salary review?

My advice is to save yourself this headache and go for the Shoosmiths permanent WFH role. Your team may be chill now, but if the board start applying pressure on the partners, that can change quickly.

(58)(2)

K&E

Are you actually at Kirkland? My team’s mentality is that they couldn’t give two hoots where in the world you are, as long as you’re on calls and the work is done. The flip side is this equally applies to when you’re actually on holiday… Show your face once a week when you’re in the country and everyone is happy.

(39)(4)

Any excuse to say you’re at K&E I guess

I think the point was that if Kirkland tell you to do something and you decide to say no (e.g. you’re told to work in the office permanently) then it’s the kind of shop that won’t need to worry about retention when laying you off.

(29)(1)

Kirkland NQ

Exactly bro, the ‘land is pretty chill. But then I’m PE deal smashing monster who could join any other firm on the face of the earth and turn them into a deal titan.

(5)(33)

Anonny

K&E have full remote associates so this is BS. All the paymasters want is 2400+ hours, don’t care where you do them.

(13)(3)

Vil

I think rather than asking here it’s probably best to discuss that with your team and explain you would like to work from home permanently.

You could cause yourself a lot of stress if you move to Birmingham without telling your team and then blindside them by telling them you’re never returning to the office. If your team are generally understanding about wfh then hopefully that will be fine, but there’s no point risking annoying your team by avoiding that conversation.

(27)(0)

Sigh

Another young person wanting to have their cake and eat it.

(18)(77)

ABCD

And why the hell not? Honestly hate the mentality that absolutely everything must be blood, sweat and tears. Jog on.

(94)(8)

Normal person

I suppose you’ll want us all to be conscripted too to fight in the war like the good old days.

What exactly is wrong with WFH if you do the work…

(53)(4)

Sigh

Another boomer who didn’t get the (WFH) cake and thinks now nobody else should have the cake either.

Grow up (figuratively, of course).

(62)(4)

snort

And what would the point of having cake be if not to eat it…

(11)(1)

Ladders

Birmingham?

(18)(2)

Anon

I wonder if they’ve visited Birmingham before

(19)(2)

Paralegal

I’ve had a potted plant sat on my chair for the past 3 months and they’re still paying me

(26)(1)

Alan

You’ll have a big house, but you’ll also have a massively limited career.

(16)(10)

Sensible guy

Are you seriously considering commuting from Birmingham to London? Even 1 day a week that sounds horrendous.

Consider moving into the regional office of your firm if they have one. You can expect to have it all!

(12)(4)

Dicko

The head of my team has directed everyone to come in 5 days a week and if anyone has a problem he’s “happy to discuss”. Obviously no one would have the guts to raise any discontentment…

(11)(1)

A non-knee mousse

Ah, the “happy to discuss”. The office equivalent to “sleep with the fishes” or “an offer you can’t refuse”.

(4)(1)

Yours anon

You might be allowed to WFH permanently if you asked to do so, but don’t expect to keep your full London salary. Other firms will most likely follow Stephenson Harwood’s approach in that regard.

Also, as a junior with no office face-time/client networking/general presence other than on a screen, your career progression will quickly stall.

(11)(7)

Trainee

It really comes down to the department and your supervisor. If they are fine with your WFH arrangements then you’re good. However, if your firm’s office decides in the future they want everyone in x days per week, then you have no choice unless you have a WFH agreement between you and the firm in writing.

Personally, I think it’s good to ‘show face’ in the office and that’s for your own benefit. You’re not going to benefit from the immediate questions you have about a deal and the small talk when WFH. I’d say it’s mainly for your network and progression when being in the office, you don’t want to be known as ‘that guy’ that never comes in. Again, totally depends on the firm.

I think you could almost live anywhere in the South East and be based in a London office which is amazing. It’s not my place to say where people should live, but I do believe you should be relatively close to your office. I can already see a lot of people eyeing how far they can distance themselves from London and cling to their salary.

(5)(1)

Detroit Techno

I wouldn’t risk it until you had explicit approval from the managing partner and HR.

It’s not just a question of long-term career harm (although that could be the case, too) but rather of short to mid-term disciplinary action.

In my experience, it is surprising how fast the tides turn and how recurrent policy violations that nobody pays attention suddenly become a big issue for no apparent reason. All is fun and games, nobody cares where you are, the team supervisor is relaxed etc. until it suddenly isn’t. And then things often escalate/precipitate very, very quickly and you’re in for a very disagreeable conversation or, in this case, a huge mess. The previously cool partner who did not give a f*** about you being in Birmingham will rat you out, HR (which are mostly scumbags) will show their usual petty selves etc. Probably everyone will forget about it soon enough, but the harm is already done.

(5)(0)

Associate

I reckon for as long as your contract says your normal place of work is the office, your minimum days in the office under a WFH policy are pretty enforceable.

That said, I’m pretty sure attendance in the office doesn’t deliver tangible benefits to client service, leads to increased costs or difficulties sharing around work. With that in mind, I also reckon if you submitted a flexible working request to work from home as much as you like actually couldn’t be refused (there are 8 legal reasons that can be given for refusing it). Agree with all comments re impacting progression / pay reviews etc – though. That’s our choice though so if you accept that risk, insist on your preferred WFH arrangements I say.

I also reckon a firm’s ability to unilaterally cut salaries is limited in practice. It’s a threat and something we’re all scared of but to actually impose that would probs be a repudiatory breach -> unfair dismissal risk and risk you’d walk away free from any post-termination obligations. Suspect firms will threaten it but be slow to actually do it.

(8)(0)

Anon

I think you should try renting an Air bnb or a hotel in the part of bham you have your eye on & try out the commute first. Even 2 days a week, how does it go in practice? Right now Avanti are (sort of) running 1 train an hour. And that’s before you’ve got to New St – remember, no tube in Bham.

Partners might be chill about you working from ‘London’ but they didn’t hire a regional lawyer, and they might worry word will get out. It would only take Equity Partner A in a different team who loves the office to be told by one of their team that person in Team B is living in Brum, and then Equity Partner A would call your line manager & say “you’ve put me in a difficult position” etc etc.

So I think don’t abuse the freedom you’ve got or they might clamp down. You at least need to understand politics of your firm.

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.

Related Stories