"Don't make me go back in!"
Dozens of in-house lawyers have given their verdict on what they want in the lawyers they instruct and, so far, only one has expressed a preference for external advisors to work from the office.
"Selfishly we want our lawyers to be available to give advice when we need it", said the outlier, a General Counsel for a real estate business. "Working from home is fine on a limited basis but it does impact when we're trying to convene an urgent call - it always gives the impression of encroachment upon outside life", they said. "Also we like meeting our lawyers and talking things through face to face. It’s infinitely more productive."
Everyone else either didn't mind, or expressed a preference for the lawyers they instruct to have the flexibility to work from home. "Flexibility is good for work life balance. Those firms that offer it impress me", said the Head of Legal in a real estate company. Flexibly working lawyers "seem happier", they said, adding, "it's easier for us to get hold of them!"
Several respondents said it was important for their advisors to be in the office for at least some of the time, both for the benefit of clients such as themselves, but also because it enhanced the external lawyer's career development.
"I'd want a mix", said a government lawyer, "because (a) we're required to do a mix, and (b) it's what's best for junior legal staff, to learn from people in a face to face environment".
"It works for me, and it should work for them", said a senior in-house lawyer in the banking sector. "I totally agree that successful businesses require some face-to-face with your colleagues, to build relationships, learn", and carry out business development. "But I would also rather know my work was being done by a lawyer who is supported to work in a way that suits them and me. I won't always be in my office and I wouldn't expect any lawyer working for me to be forced to be in theirs".
Firms "need to retain the 'value add' services so there will always need to be someone in the office to run to court" or swear a statutory declaration, said a senior in-house lawyer in the media/tech sector, but "what matters to me is the quality of the legal advice - not the location in which it is typed".
One GC didn't care - but warned against going soft at home. "It's their problem to find the balance, not mine to tell them how to work", they said. However, "I'd hazard against abandoning the experience that made the top lawyers so good though. They can't risk losing that".
However, the survey has only just opened, so the final findings could be much more painful for homebodies. If you're in-house, give your two cents below. Thousands of desperate lawyers are hanging on your every word, as per usual.