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Legal workers ‘actively ignoring’ hybrid policies, report finds

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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.

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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”.

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20 Comments

Is there a better place?

I never goez in

Is there a better place?

I never goez in.

Anon

Because we work in a sector that does not necessarily require a huge office presence. I am more productive at home, happier at home and save more money than commuting.

We even bill more hours whilst at home! Why on earth would we want to be in the office?

Note: this does not apply to those who supervise juniors/trainees. I understand how beneficial being in the office and learning by osmosis can be for development.

Alan

You overlook, deliberately perhaps, that many people can’t be trusted. I have had on many occasions colleagues and subordinates who are unreachable whilst “working” from home, stating excuses such as that their children are suddenly sick, the boiler man is over or their dog needs a walk. The problem is that clients will surely jump ship to firms where they lawyer is available all the time for them. The only way to ensure this is 5 days a week office work as a rule.

Sigma male

Given that no reputable firm in the City does this and all serious leaders favour a hybrid approach, this is an out of touch and poor suggestion and not in line with the market.

Alan

The market will correct itself, and I won’t be the one to be left behind. Clients already have confirmed their satisfaction with this approach to me. If you want to be wrapped up in cotton wool gathering together to discuss your feelings and which pronoun your prefer while a client has an urgent problem they need help with, that’s your look out.

Alan's (ex) client

Alan, I’ve just tried getting hold of your during work hours but it appears that instead of answering your phone, you’re writing comments on legal cheek while daydreaming of bringing back Victorian workhouses. Think I would rather be represented by someone who isn’t such an attention seeking jobby

Bob

I am reminded of the dinosaur law firm watching the meteor arc across the sky and telling his clients “don’t worry it is only some pyrotechnics – everything will go back to normal and those warm blooded creatures suggesting a different approach don’t know what they are talking about”.
Time will tell I guess which one survives

Avid worker

Hear Hear, everyone must return to the office at least four days per week. It’s insane to continue working like this – or you’ll have no firm left!

Alan

Law firms have operated in this way since law firms first existed. I’m not buying that any other way works just because some beanie wearing millennial with a sleeve tattoo tells me to change to make me buy his online tech e-portal or whatever.

Boomer Alert

Boomer spotted!

Alun

While Alan is a parody account, the mindset is sadly very prevalent among the Brexit-loving Daily Mail reading Boomers who sit in their £1m houses they paid £50k for back in the day moaning about millennials and demanding their triple lock. Worse the Tory party pander to these people as a key demographic.

Just Ice

If there is any justice in the world Alan is destined to spend eternity being rammed by a copy of the Daily Mail. Though he might enjoy that.

Anon

I’m not even convinced by the trainees and junior lawyers point. I’m an associate at a very big London-based firm, and our juniors are either in their own offices or sat with other juniors who are equally clueless and confused. Trying to find the partners is near-impossible given the number of meetings and calls they have, so it’s not as if junior associates are benefiting from hands-on supervision and training, and they’d probably be equally well-off doing it all from home.

Alan

At home they’d be laying on the sofa playing x box of my experience is anything to go by. I’m the office, Monday to Friday, in a smart suit and tie puts everyone in the right frame of mind to serve clients and where supervisors can spot the layabouts. It won’t be long before the dominoes fall and all forms are back to the usual arrangement. It just makes sense.

Reply to anon

This is how we will end up with a generation of ill trained, self obsessed lawyers with varying social skills (that are needed with clients).

We need to feel like part of a team and well managed, especially trainees.

Osmosis

You’ll be surprised – the power of legal osmosis can travel through thick walls and between floors, and crucial knowledge diffuses from partners that you never see or hear from to junior lawyers!

Consistency, please?

That’s nothing.

In the Crown Courts the policies on remote attendance by CVP vary from Court to Court and are as far apart as:

“You can appear by CVP for all hearings except trials unless the Court orders otherwise”.

to

“All parties must attend in person unless a request has been made, with reasons for CVP, and the request has been granted by a Judge”.

Big Max

I think my support staff are absolutely invaluable and I enjoy being able to pop to them with queries.

The upswing in WFH is tiresome and unproductive. A day, perhaps two at home- fine, but it is destroying culture and morale.

Anonymous

I like WFH because I do not like people.

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