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The Legal Industry and the Hybrid Work Model by Gregory Welch

The Legal Industry and the Hybrid Work Model

by Gregory Welch

As the world continues to emerge from the pandemic, businesses across the United States work to define the ‘new normal’ for their employees and workplaces, specifically regarding schedules and office space. For example, in response to a growing call from employees for greater flexibility to work hybrid remote/in-office schedules, companies such as Meta and Amazon have scaled back previously planned office expansions. In contrast, other companies, like Twitter and
Lyft, have announced employees may work remotely indefinitely.

Amidst this, the legal industry attempts to find its’ groove being largely comprised of private law firms historically recognized as very traditional workplaces. In a recent article from Bisnow, law firms of various sizes from across the country discussed the competing interests of in-person collaboration as a critical component to their success versus offering flexible hybrid-work schedules to attract and retain top legal talent in an increasingly competitive market. Fortunately, the past two and a half years have provided insight to the human and business impact of hybrid works schedules for attorneys.

According to a Thomson Reuters legal survey of nearly 2,500 private practice attorneys, 89% of which were partners, 84% of those in a decision-making role reported not having experienced frustration from attorneys working outside of their normal office environment. Additionally, 60% of respondents reported that the ability to work remotely in some fashion had positively impacted their well-being which is in-turn correlated to stronger job performance. From a firm perspective, commercial real estate broker Savills Inc. surveyed the firms of AmLaw 100 to gauge their approach to a hybrid work schedule as of August 2022. According to the survey’s findings, around 68% of firms expected employees to be in the office 3-4 days/week as compared to only 22% with a policy of “can come and go as they please”. It is worth noting that within those ranges there was uniformly more autonomy given to the highest-earning and most tenured employees, such as partners, as compared to non-partners or particularly administrative staff which had the least flexibility in determining their schedules.

Looking to office occupancy rates as another indicator, Kastle Systems, the country’s largest managed security services provider to commercial businesses, reported that the legal industry is returning to in-office work at a higher rate than other industries. For the month of August 2022, average office occupancy was estimated to be 55.4% at law firms as compared to 43.0% across all other industries based on unique key card entry data to track client utilization of office space
across seven major metropolitans, including Washington D.C., New York, and Chicago. Whichever way a particular firm decides to move forward, it is clear that the legal industry is leading the charge to have employees return to in-office work.