John was going to have to replace his fun, imaginary colleague for some real ones

Sidley Austin is the latest US firm to tell its staff that they have to be in the office four days a week. 

“We believe that there is substantial benefit, including in respect of professional and personal development for our lawyers, when we work together in the office," a spokesman told RollOnFriday. "As a result, we have implemented 4 day / week in-office attendance.” The new policy is being rolled out across the London office for all staff, including business services, not just the lawyers.

After the pandemic, the firm did not have a formal remote working policy per se, and staff tended to come into the office around three days a week, a source told ROF earlier this year. Although, in recent months, time in the office has increased to 4 or 5 days a week in many departments, according to a source.  

Another insider told ROF that the new policy is being “driven solely by the new hires from Paul Weiss” in the corporate team. There was “huge upset over it” as the lawyers pushing for four days had "been off most of August and not in the office" due to "a big deal” collapsing that they were working on. The source said the corporate enforcers "want everyone in” for 4 days a week “but when they aren't busy their team can work remote.”  

The insider added that the corporate team is "a deeply unhappy place and with everything else going on here lots of chatter among trainees & associates & support staff (who are also moving to 4 days) of seeking other roles.” They opined: “Expect Sidley's high scores in the annual firm review to plummet this year as so much value was placed on the flexible working.”

However, another source disputed that the new policy was down to the corporate team, stating that the decision had been made across departments, following a "natural evolution" of an increasing amount of time being spent in the office.

Sidley Austin's new policy mirrors that of fellow US firms Ropes & Gray and Skadden, which made similar internal announcements over the summer. Although at Skadden, while lawyers have to come in four days a week, business services staff are only required to come in for three days.

Sidley Austin's management presumably feels that four days in the office is a fair deal for lawyers, given the wedge on offer (NQs are paid a base salary around the £160k mark, not including a bonus). However, some non-fee earners on significantly less pay may not believe that they have signed up to the same Faustian pact.

A US firm staffer (commenting on a previous wfh story) said: "Business service staff are not on the mega salaries of lawyers. If the firm mandates that we also have to be in the office 4 days a week, there will be a huge incentive for us to leave for another firm that pays the same but offers more remote working".

And a number of US firms in London that offer comparable salaries to the likes of Sidley have better flexibility, requiring three days in the office. ROF has been reliably informed that at least one US firm's London office is quietly ignoring the 'all in' edict from across the Atlantic, having decided that it really doesn't suit the UK culture.

Let us know your firm's WFH policy, and whether it's changing, either in the comments below, or drop a line to ROF

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Basket Case 36492 15 September 23 10:03

Sidley is widely known as the most "doss" firm in the city in relation to the amount it pays and relative to its reputation.

People stay as long as they can because they never find the same benefits elsewhere. When people leave Sidley for anywhere else, if it's not in-house, it's painful for everyone involved when they are forced to adapt to a real working environment.

I don't understand why the US HQ hasn't mandated that everyone is enslaved over there like everywhere else. I just don't get it. I know people they. They just don't work. I know people who have left who have told me how leaving doubled their workload.

If anyone has any thoughts on why this is the case, I'm all ears.

Anonymous 15 September 23 11:30

What fools.

Didn't they hear that Skadden collapsed and doesn't exist anymore because it thought that people being paid the best part of two hundred large could be expected to come in to their place of work? 

Everybody told them, those high achieving multi-millionaire Skadden idiots who know absolutely nothing, that people are far more productive at home in their underpants and that everyone would leave for other firms willing to pay them hundreds of thousands of pounds to come and go as they please.

So it's just an empty building now and the name 'Skadden' is distant memory for all of us.

Anonymous 15 September 23 12:28

Realised since Covid that it's impossible to get any real work done at the office. Can't go 10 minutes without having to smile politely at some inane banter. If I actually need to get anything done, I'm better off at home

Unimpressed 15 September 23 16:05

It's going to be an unpopular move which will show over the next few months with lawyers moving on for a better work/life balance. 

Anonymous 17 September 23 18:01

There is a trend from most firms wanting staff to be in the office a minimum of 3-4 days per week.  

Anonymous 18 September 23 15:36

Also here management want to see more bums on seats, and the explanation is that the mingling will improve communications and improve work morale. The problem is of course that all the cooler talk will eat into billable hours. At least I assume that the bums are meant to go on separate seats.

Meh 19 September 23 11:24

3 days/4 days my main issue is having a place to work if they expect us to come into the office. We have moved to hot desking and its a proper pain having to spend 5-10 mins each day, grabbing your stuff, re-adjusting the monitor, desk and chair etc. Yes, first world problems but its really annoying. Want us to come into the office? Fine, at least give us a damn desk to work from!

Anon 19 September 23 21:14

Bad move. Plenty of firms offer great WFH/Hybrid options now.

Wonder how they'll retain support staff since 3-5k travel costs are a very significant chunk of money to those on the lower salaries. I'm sure they'll see a lot of people leaving for new roles over the next few months. No one wants to do 4 days in the office. 

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