Sadly, WFH for lawyers isn't as exciting as the portrayal in budget films

In-house lawyers have been spilling the beans on what they want from the lawyers they instruct and, so far, only a handful have expressed a preference for external advisors to work from the office.

For those clients who wanted their lawyers in the office, the main belief was that juniors receive better training when closely monitored by their seniors. A GC in financial services said: "I think that development is much easier in an office environment", although noted there wasn't "any difference in quality" of work, when their lawyers did work remotely. 

A GC in the manufacturing sector favoured their lawyers being "supervised" in the office, for a "joined-up approach". 

But the vast majority of other respondents either didn't mind, or expressed a preference for the lawyers they instruct to have the flexibility to work from home.

"I just care that my advice is correct and delivered on time and on budget," said a client in the energy sector, "I don't mind if the advice is delivered by a lawyer sipping on drinks with straw hats while sitting on a beach, or if it is delivered by a lawyer who is only unchained from their desk in their flashy glass building in the City at 11pm each day."

"As long as they produce good work I don't care," agreed another client. "Who cares as long as the quality of advice is there," echoed a banking in-house lawyer. 

Some respondents felt that remote working was beneficial for the welfare of their lawyers. "I want my lawyers healthy, attentive, available and sharp - where they are doing the work matters less to me. If they are unhappy and exhausted in the office it's no good," said an in-house lawyer in a bank.

"No point in making people travel from point A to point B to do a job that they can do at point A," commented another. "It's just going to make them grumpy!" 

"I just want them to be as happy and relaxed as possible," summed up one client. 

A GC in the energy sector said it was "important to understand that external lawyers have some element of work life balance, particularly after recent headlines. The only way to achieve this is to allow flexibility."

Many respondents believed that the choice should be with the individual. "Some people work better at home, some people work better in the office, some people have particular needs," commented a GC in energy commented. "We are all grown ups and should be treated as such, and technology makes it possible to WFH".

"I trust any lawyer can handle their working life, including the location where they are most productive," concurred another respondent.

Another in-house lawyer said that they were relaxed about where their lawyers worked as long as "they have the right support, both in terms of learning and ensuring sufficient downtime" but that simply "being in a fancy office" was "meaningless".

Some clients believed that the output from their lawyers had actually improved with remote working. "I haven't noticed any drop-off in services provided since WFH became more normal. The opposite, in fact," said an in-house lawyer in infrastructure.

While a client in the telecoms sector commented: "I actually find that on one-to-one calls lawyers can be more personable when they are at home which is great for relationships." 

Some respondents noted that their organisations had embraced remote working, and law firms should mirror this, not least to retain staff. "I don't think there needs to be such an issue with working remotely in private practice," said one in-house lawyer. "This was also one of the reasons I left private practice in the first place." 

"The option to work from home makes a big difference to me," said a client in real estate, "So it's reasonable to expect that for others. But there will be occasions when we need to meet in person."

The balance between office and home-working was highlighted by some respondents, with an in-house lawyer in funds opining that while "some office days" are "good for training juniors...full time is unnecessary". 

"I understand the need for policies, but I think horses for courses," said a commercial client, "some people need colleagues around to learn and become enculturated, others work best alone, probably most people are a hybrid."

In last year's survey, 49% of in-house lawyers said that they wouldn't mind if the lawyers that they instruct work remotely. 42% said they would actually prefer that law firms give staff the flexibility to work from home. Only 8% of respondents wanted their lawyers to be in the office. 1% wanted their lawyers to be in the office full-time.

If you're in-house, have your say below. 

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Arachnae 17 May 24 09:10

We want everyone back in the office. But in light of WFH we want to offload excess office space. But we want everyone back in the office. But we want everybody to hot desk and save on power and cleaning.

mmmmmmmmm 17 May 24 09:12

Genuine question: are in-house lawyers the best judges of how law firms run their teams? Yes, they see end product, but they do not see all the behind the scenes stuff. 

@mx9 17 May 24 10:24

Yeah, but we were mostly all in private practice at one time or another and therefore know exactly what kind pointless sh!t goes on behind the scenes. It’s one of many reasons for leaving private practice and not going back!

Having had the experience, lived to tell the tale and now see things from the other side of the fence, we’re probably better placed than many of the private practice lifers who wouldn’t know how to run a business or a team even if they were given a Ladybird book telling them how to run a business or a team.

OK Boomer 17 May 24 10:27

The only ones who are heavily against WFH are the dinosaur partners who hate their families and love trying to have affairs with their secretaries or junior employees

Office Drone 17 May 24 10:56

@ mmmmmmmmm 17 May 24 09:12

The vast majority of in-house lawyers spent years in private practice, so yes, I think on average they know enough to be able to afford an opinion. 😊

It's of course harder for lawyers who were trained in-house or moved in-house in their first few years after qualifying. But looking at my peers in my company and others, the majority moved in-house when they reached Senior Associate/Counsel level and were fed up with law firm life (or like my GC, who was partner at a US firm and moved in-house for the sake of his marriage and seeing his kids on weekends at least.). 

Greying GC 17 May 24 11:36

"The only ones who are heavily against WFH are the dinosaur partners who hate their families and love trying to have affairs with their secretaries or junior employees"

I wouldn't presume to dictate to our panel firms but I do take the view that our more junior external lawyers will most likely get better professional development in an office environment.  Also I have some concerns that WFH has, in some circumstances, had an adverse impact on mental health.  

Neither is necessarily going to have a direct impact on me but as a solicitor and a human being I think it is important.

Anonymous 17 May 24 14:22

Currently sat in a near-empty office since it's FridayTM. I love the quiet. Please, for the sake of your office-enjoying colleagues, continue to work from home.

home alone 18 May 24 14:26

I wouldn't mind working in the office if we had offices. But booking a desk, staggering in with my laptop, plugging it in to a different desk each time, changing the set up from the previous user's preferences to mine, adjusting the seat height and back and then trying to block out the noise of my colleagues gives me a headache and makes me grumpy - and then there's the commute back home. I'd be fine coming in to work if I had the same desk and chair and some private space where I could control the noise level.

In-house (literally and figuratively) 20 May 24 19:03

It’s a balance to be negotiated between lawyer and line management which does throw developmental needs, mental wellbeing and environmental impacts into the mix. I mainly WFH  now but have a constant dialogue with my team around who is planning to be where and when so that if one is heading to the office as many of us as possible will join them. We seem to actually like spending some working time together, and how would we have established that without spending time apart?! 😉

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