What’s Happening With RTO and Hybrid Work At Law Firms?

As pointed out in one of the sources below, September marks a kind of reset for law practice.  More relaxed summer schedules are behind, and it is “back to work.”  But, what is that likely to look like this particular September?  The quote below, from Above the Law, gives us one perspective from a law firm consultant and should give law firm management some degree of pause.

Law firms are different from other businesses—they just are. Lawyers don’t want to be told what to do and when to do it.

We are professionals. We know that if we want to be in that office with our colleagues then that office is doing a good job.

[A]nything that is an unnecessary order can create resentment.

— Law firm consultant Alexa Ross, in comments given to the American Lawyer on the concept of “core” hours within law firms operating with hybrid work policies. Lawyers should “look forward” to coming to the office, she said, rather than being required to do so. “That increases productivity tremendously,” Ross said, “it also decreases attrition.”

And the following article adds insight into the responsibility of law firm managements in meeting the challenges of changing times after the pandemic upended much of what law firm managements believed in.

Captioned as “Did Labor Day Make A Difference For The Legal Profession?”, the article explores how the pandemic changed how work was accomplished, the meaning of “hybrid work”, and how law firms of the future are going to be different, including the impact of AI, and recommendations for management on dealing with the reluctance of lawyers to return to the office and the importance of the impact on productivity and how that impacts the various players.

One of the concepts addressed, “Colleague Connect”, is not on my list of favored methodologies.  A little too Big Brother for me!  I think we can do better.


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Why are Women Lawyers Leaving Law Firms?

Have you ever wondered why women lawyers leave law firm jobs?  It is written about a lot, and sometimes over-inflated statistics accompany those articles.  It also is often reported that women lawyers leave their jobs because they prefer to stay at home with their children.  But is that correct, or do women lawyers leave law firm jobs because of the failures of law firm policies to address their challenges?

It is an interesting question, and my interaction with young women lawyers leads me to believe that they enjoy working.  The problem is that law firms still need a lot of help understanding the challenges for young women lawyers and how to address those challenges as incentives for women to stay on those jobs.  I have written a lot about that in my work at Best Friends at the Bar, including on this Blog, and I know how complicated it can be.

Here is a recent article that addresses the issues to help you decide how you would answer the question:  Why do women lawyers leave their law firm jobs?


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The Summer Associate Drinking Etiquette Debate

This heading is the title of a recent article on Above the Law. It is a full-blown discussion with multiple sources. It is written by an experienced lawyer and includes a variety of opinions.

Maybe you think that you do not need advice about drinking at professional events. It is easy to throw away things that looks too basic, but that is not always a good idea. The basics are often the building blocks of success.

So, take a look at the debate. See where you fall in the “to drink or not to drink alcohol at professional functions” discussion. Think back over your recent experience as law clerk, summer associate, associate or young partner. Think back over the recent July 4th firm-sponsored event, and review your behavior. Were you pleased or disappointed with it the next day? Have you suffered replays of it from colleagues since? How might that change your behavior the next time?

I have not forgotten my days as a young lawyer and the temptations that existed in the law firm social environment. I also remember bad decisions by many law firm members which followed them for years. Upon reflection, I am confident that the best position in the debate revolves around responsible behavior. It is not really a strict choice between “to drink or not to drink”, but, rather, how to drink responsibly in a particular setting.

A similar discussion is included in my new book, New Lawyer Launch: The Handbook for Young Lawyers (Full Court Press, 2022). Here’s how my contributors and I address the issue there:

Avoid trouble. As one of my contributors points out, don’t try to be the life of the party at work events. Another contributor reminds you to be careful how much alcohol you drink at work events, including office lunches, dinners and parties. Drinking alcohol in excess can create big problems, and there are plenty of career-defining stories to back that up. Every lawyer knows at least one of those stories, and most lawyers love to tell those stories over and over and over again. Those episodes are very hard to escape.

Be appropriate in every way, and do not try too hard to be one of the cool people. Just be yourself — the best version of yourself.

Too conservative for you? Maybe. But I will take conservative behavior over unwise risk-taking any day —- especially where careers hang in the balance.

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Big Law Is Pulling The Plug on Promises for Blended Approaches to Back-To-Office

All legal news outlets are bursting with the news that Skadden has announced a backtracking of its prior blended model for return to the office in favor of a mandated four days in the office. And, to date, Davis Polk has followed suit.

That is not a huge surprise because when Skadden talks starting salaries, Biglaw often says “how high?” on the way up. It is proven that Skadden sets the bar in that fact setting. But, as pointed out by several reliable legal commenters, approaches to back-to-office differ from salary announcements — because the former is integrally related to law firm culture and involves issues of work-life balance that often attract lawyers to a practice. As a result, changing policies on these issues can have serious backlash effects.

Keep your eyes open for other firms that follow suit with Skadden. My hope is that is will not be many. I am a big supporter of the blend of “in office” and working from home. I know that a certain amount of in office is necessary for effective mentoring and client development, but I also know that commuting at the high cost of mass transit and dedication of time does not make sense in our current professional environment and the advances in technology. When boards of directors are meeting over Zoom, and depositions and hearings are being conducted in similar spaces, it is hard to argue that the business of law cannot effectively use this same technology to successful ends. At least part of the time.

And any talk of a “ding” to profits from a blend that includes working from home is not supported by the facts. Let us not forget that Biglaw INCREASED profits during the pandemic when working from home five days a week was the rule rather than the exception.

Greed should not be driving decisions that are so central to the success of young lawyers in an increasingly complicated world that includes two working parents and very demanding schedules. I have to believe that we can do better.

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Biglaw Defection: Is This Only the Beginning?

I know young lawyers who have done what you will read about in the link below —— and others who are thinking of doing it.  Their family and personal/professional values no longer align with Biglaw values. Making money for those who already have too much of it — at the risk of fulfilling family values —- does not appeal to many young lawyers today. And family values have never been high on the TO DO lists of Biglaw firms.  

It is a new day —- a very complicated new day for men and women in law practices, especially those with children —- AND law firms are loath to change the way they do business.  The oft-repeated justification for resisting remote practices and demanding 2500 hours or more of billables a year is to increase profits and create new clients.  

There was a time when that may have sufficed as an adequate justification, but then came the pandemic. The pandemic demonstrated that, with the technology available today, those justifications are no longer valid.  Profits in Biglaw did not suffer during the pandemic and, in fact, increased. There was more than enough in the profit pie to keep equity partners in very comfortable lifestyles.

But, as the link below evidences, the importance of profits can be eclipsed.

Case in point is this story of an associate lawyer, who played the Biglaw game for years but turned his back on Biglaw partnership to save his family life.  It is inspiring for me to read this young man’s words.  As a young lawyer/mother, more than 40 years ago, I had no apparent choice. And neither did so many other women lawyers. We took a step back from our professional goals to meet the needs of our families. And it did not end “in the day.” It has been happening to so many women lawyers since.

But, as you will see, decisions like this are no longer gender issues.  They are values issues.  They are family issues. They affect men as well as women. Men also want to spend time with their children. They want to get home in time to kiss their children goodnight. They want to witness as many “growth moments” as possible.

The first word. The first step. Today’s young men understand, just like women have for years, that those moments are precious. Women always have realized that “firsts” are just that and will never be repeated. Thinking that every first can be experienced is unrealistic. But creating a life where experiencing it is more likely than not is, indeed, realistic. It is all about values and tradeoffs.

Here is the link: https://abovethelaw.com/2023/06/eli-albrecht-biglaw-partner-work-life-balance/?utm_medium=email&_hsmi=261674281&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_EXxlVFHKdBI_QTQ9LipMjp3y0DcKU7j30_cdl_rm-nK9u57pb7vmhxYCrZ-wwiXQOJYZU5praL3P3y_0evEYhwYqRTiIfE69Fx5L2iP6G_7Jzva4&utm_content=261674281&utm_source=hs_email   

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Young Lawyers Should Avoid Personal Comparisons

My friend Jezra Kaye is a consultant and author about all things to improve communications and public speaking. In her recent newsletter, she worte about the dangers of “comparison-itis”. Comparing ourselves to others has become an epidemic. Here’s how Jezra explains it:

How many times today have you compared yourself to somebody else?

Depending on what time of day you’re reading this, the answer might be once, or twice…or way more.

After all, there’s no limit to how often we can put ourselves down by finding people who do something “better” than we do. There’s:

  • The colleague who speaks more fluently than you;
  • The sibling who has more money than you;
  • The friend who’s always been cooler than you;
  • The classmate who’s more “successful” than you.

Then there’s the really tough one: The person you should have been if you’d just been able to meet the “perfectly reasonable” standards of your parents, your school, your social class, even yourself.

Do you recognize yourself in Jezra’s words? You know you do. We all indulge in personal comparisons more than we should. And it is not healthy, and we all should stop it.

Put away Facebook, Instagram and all other social media toys that lead you to the bad place of PERSONAL COMPARISONS. That black hole. The not-gift that keeps on giving.

In my experience, unhealthy personal comparison is especially true for young lawyers. A young associate may be making great money that provides him/her with all that person needs, but SOMEONE is always making more. That same associate lawyer may be on the road to partnership, but SOMEONE just made it a year early. Or that young lawyer may have won a tough case, but the recovery was less than SOMEONE else got. And the list goes on and on, seemingly forever.

Shake off that burden. No one needs pressure like that. Just be your own wonderful self. Have confidence and love the way you look and all that you have accomplished. Know your own unique value and be proud of all that you have done in the past and can look forward to in the future.

It will save you a lot of wasted time. And, last time I checked, an abundance of time to waste is something that most young lawyers do not have.

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Is Working From Home Truly What Young Lawyers Want?

I have spent considerable time wondering about this since we entered what is arguably the post pandemic phase. There are benefits to working from home for certain, but there also are benefits to being in the office among colleagues, joining in impromptu conversations that can be important for career development, and observing how seasoned lawyers lead and manage teams and develop clients.

Until now, I did not have any statistical evidence. But now, thanks to my friend Phyllis Weiss Haserot, an expert on multiple generations in the workplace, I have more guidance on what Gen Xers and Gen Zers in the workplace think about that question.

Although it is true that the Dell survey cited in the article below is not specific to young lawyers, I have to believe that the stats for young lawyers would be more in favor of “in person” work because of the limitations to virtual work in a profession like the law where being “seen” in the traditional way holds such high value among managers and decision-makers.

Here is what Ms. Haserot had to say in her recent Practice Development Counsel blog:

News Flash! The Younger Generations DO Want to Be In-Person

Let’s ’s stick a big fat pin in the myth that Gen Z and young Millennials only want to meet on their screens. It’s a split decision and open to change. A recent Dell survey found 29% of Gen Z respondents prefer to be in person. 29% want flexibility, which translates to in-person some days and outside the office space some of the time as expedient and most appropriate to get the work done.

My personal experience is that many ARE interested in being in person and know what they are missing when being only virtual!!! Just not all the time, so they have flexibility to incorporate other important things in their lives.

So, the verdict seems to be that flexibility rules. Which makes me feel very good because I have been preaching flexibility for women lawyers for a very long time and, most recently, for all young lawyers as increasing numbers of male lawyers are participating in childcare and other family responsibilities that depend on flexibility for success at work and at home.

Where do you fall on this question? Deciding whether you are an “all virtual lawyer”, a “one day of the week in the office lawyer” or some combination of the two is likely to be very important to your future. Give it lots of thought, and build your case. It is sure to come up, and you want to be ready for the discussion. Your future may depend on it.

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Keeping Your Eyes on Both Profession and Family

Taking care of yourself, the welfare of your family, and also taking care of your clients and your team — it sound like a very heavy lift. And it can be. But it also is the smart thing to do to enhance your career and future prospects.

Check out this article to find out how one lawyer approaches all that lift. And then riff on it. Situations and circumstances differ, and approaches will differ as well. It is the goals that are consistent.

So if you are a woman lawyer — or a male lawyer with primary childcare responsibilities — and a profession to safeguard, develop your own plan and approach to taking care of business on both ends. Be the example you want to be to others on your team — both at home and at the office.

You CAN do this!

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