Ropes at work
Ropes & Gray has told its lawyers that they will need to be in the office four days a week, in order to get a bonus.
The Boston-headquartered firm had previously allowed its lawyers to work remotely on Mondays and Fridays. But, from November, the firm will require its lawyers to be in the office from Monday to Thursday, with Friday as the only "optional remote day."
The firm gave reasons for its change of policy in an internal memo to its UK and US lawyers: "[Our] strengths, which define and differentiate us, can only be realized to their fullest extent through in-person collaboration, learning and mentoring. Simply put, we need more people together, more often, more consistently."
The memo noted that there could be flexibility for circumstances such as "a health care appointment, a meeting at your child’s school or an issue that keeps you home unexpectedly." But hinted that this may be limited: "Our experience suggests that these occasional circumstances have tended to arise in a range of 10-20 days per year. When these events come up, please let your teams know."
Lawyers who flout the rules are likely to miss out on a bonus, as the firm said its "expectations" for attendance "will be one of a number of factors in considering year end bonuses.” The firm did not respond to questions as to whether the new policy will apply to partners or business services staff.
When fellow US firm Skadden ordered its lawyers to pull four days a week in the office, the reaction in the comments to that story was that many hated the idea. "One of the very few good things to emerge from the pandemic was a general appreciation that certain desk-based jobs can be done perfectly well from home," commented a reader. "Firms that force lawyers to return to the office full-time (or nearly) are throwing away the benefits of that societal shift. And for all that firms shout about D&I, stripping flex and hybrid working completely cuts across that."
However, another opined: "Office attendance goes hand in hand with the Faustian pact that people make when they join these [US] firms. No one will leave for 'better flexibility' because the price of that flexibility is a lower salary."
Presumably Ropes & Gray's management also feels that chaining lawyers to the office is fair, given that they are using golden chains; NQs are on a base salary of £147k and juniors earn more than many partners make at other firms.
However, not all the US firms offering megabucks are demanding four days in the office.
At Goodwin Procter (where NQs are paid £160k) lawyers are required to be in the office three days per week. While another top-paying US firm in the City, Kirkland & Ellis, also has a policy of three days a week in the office, rather than four.
At Sidley Austin, (where NQ salary is £159,500) the firm does not have a formal remote working policy per se, but RollOnFriday understands that staff tend to come into the office around three days a week.
The likes of Shearman & Sterling and White & Case (which all pay their NQs in the £140k+ bracket), require their lawyers to be in the office for three days a week.
Osborne Clarke (where NQs in London earn £90k) recently made it compulsory for staff to attend the office three times a week, in order to be eligible for a bonus. One lawyer commented: "For associates, flexibility is now as much as a currency as cash is. And OC cannot compete on cash with the top firms." Another agreed: "There are plenty of firms that will offer both more money and better work/life balance and flexibility."
One of the most flexible options in the City is at DAC Beachcroft which allows staff to work remotely full time. However, on the flip-side, when it comes to salary, DAC Beachcroft NQs in London are on a minimum salary of £70k.
A RollOnFriday poll last year of over 4,500 lawyers and law firm staff revealed that there was a huge preference towards WFH for at least the majority of the week.
And early results in the RollOnFriday In-House lawyers survey indicate that most clients are happy for their lawyers to work from home. "WFH has clear benefits for many people and leads to more relaxed, balanced habits," said one client. "We'd like our lawyers to be trusted to get things done without them being chained to their desks."