Differing approaches between lawyers and support staff described as ‘divisive’
A new report has found that over a third (35%) of staff at big UK law firms are “actively ignoring” hybrid working policies.
The eye-catching stat features as part of a wider investigation into the disconnect between support staff and fee-earning lawyers, with the research showing that 87% of respondents across both groups enjoyed working away from the office in some shape or form.
This, according to the report, has fostered “conflict between staff expectations and firms’ desire to impose control by limiting the number of days staff can work away from the office”.
Whilst the percentage of WFH renegades sits at 35%, in the US 49% of those surveyed admitted their poor compliance with firm hybrid working policies.
Legal software company BigHand gathered a total of 836 responses from senior operations staff, HR, support staff management and practice group leaders working at law firms in the UK and US with over 50 lawyers.
There is also a discrepancy between lawyers and support staff. The report highlights that 58% of firms had different hybrid working policies for lawyers and support staff — an approach deemed to be “divisive” by the researchers.
It appears to be caused by increased pressure on support staff recruitment. Forty-eight precent of support staff working for UK firms said they would look for a new job if they were required to work for more than three days a week in the office.
The researchers argue that the consequence of this is that highly paid lawyers are compelled to undertake additional administrative (non-billable) tasks to the detriment of their fee earning capabilities, billable hours and morale.
“Lawyers are undertaking ever more administrative work, and as a result, working longer hours or billing less. This is hardly a trend that ambitious young lawyers or law firm clients will be happy about,” the report suggests. It is also a poor use of support staff which the report says is generally a law firm’s third biggest cost.
This is because, whilst law firms were forced to quickly to move to WFH during the pandemic, processes were not put in place to achieve seamless interaction between lawyers and support staff.
The report concludes: “If firms are to safeguard profitability (key to retaining top performing lawyers) — and meet the higher salary expectations of lawyers and staff, while also retaining talent — it is vital to achieve a far more efficient hybrid working model”.