"Thanks RPC, I'm overwhelmed with joy that the human will continue to wfh"
The majority of in-house lawyers would be happy for their external lawyers to work from home, according to responses collated so far in the RollOnFriday in-house survey.
In the poll, to date, 61% of in-house lawyers said that they wouldn't mind if the lawyers that they instruct work remotely. 31% 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.
"Certain kinds of work are more efficient from home," said a senior in-house lawyer in favour of remote working. "So WFH means more output and generally better responsiveness." A GC in the energy sector noted that their panel lawyers were "more relaxed" working remotely and meetings went more smoothly. "It makes it easier to contact advisers," said another client, who also believed it offered lawyers the flexibility "that they can work from a boardroom when necessary."
"We will be working flexibly and our external lawyers should be able to do so as well," said one respondent. "They still work hard - chaining people to offices and desks seems so regressive," said another.
Some respondents highlighted the importance of the wellbeing of their lawyers. "A happy lawyer is a productive lawyer and I'd prefer my lawyer to be focussed on my work than getting stressed about a pointless commute." Another in-house lawyer said remote working was the best "way forward" for mental health.
"I'm yet to be convinced that office working full time is inherently better or more productive," said one senior in-house lawyer, adding that a full-time office policy would reflect badly on the firm, as it would suggest it was "old fashioned or irrational in other ways too."
"Being in the office for the sake of it is pointless," said another respondent. "I blame Morgan Stanley. People have kids and commutes to balance. Save the money on childcare and trains and buy wine. You'll be more rounded individuals as a result." Another in-house lawyer stated that firms would be "unreasonable" to make their "lawyers work from an office when it is not required".
One in-house lawyer went further, and stipulated: "If a firm insisted on all employees working from the office full-time then that would be used against them."
Others were in favour generally of remote working, but with some caveats. "I would prefer firms to offer their lawyers flexibility, to drive better practices in the profession," said a senior lawyer in Banking/Financial services, but with the proviso: "If everyone is wfh we will expect to see this reflected in rates - get rid of the big office and pass on the savings". They believed trainees and juniors should only work from home for a "very limited portion of their week", as their "training and future quality" requires "a face to face environment."
"We have proved how much can be done remotely," said a GC in Real Estate, who was in favour of their external counsel working from home. But added "there will be occasions when senior lawyers in particular will need to attend physical meetings" and "firms might want to think how much genuine rapport they will build if everything is remote."
"I don't care where they work," said an in-house lawyer in banking. "The office certainly has some benefits, especially when it comes to bonding with colleagues, developing ideas, networking, learning and knowledge sharing. But when you have a full day of Zoom meetings or need quiet time for drafting or research, that might be better done at home and you save time on the commute."
Of the minority of respondents who said they would prefer their external lawyers to be in the office, one said it would make it "easier to meet in person if required." Another in-house lawyer said that "younger lawyers get better exposure and training" in the office.
Some firms, such as Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Freshfields and Norton Rose Fulbright are permitting employees to work remotely for up to 50% of their time. Other firms, including Allen & Overy and Herbert Smith Freehills are allowing staff to work from home for up to 40% of the time. However, Paul Hastings has given its staff a big hint not to work from home.
Meanwhile, RPC has recently told staff that they can work remotely for all of their time, should they wish to do so. The firm's employees will be allowed to work where they want, in or out of the office, for as much of their working time as they want.
The forced absence from the office has permanently broken many people's tether to the office. And firms that don't adapt their policies to allow flexibility, may find some of their employees staying away from the office for good: a RollOnFriday survey revealed that over 50% of lawyers would swap firms if they couldn't work from home.
Are you an in-house lawyer? Then please, take RollOnFriday's poll for in-house lawyers: