Remote working: Why are law firms struggling to establish a ‘work from home’ culture among lawyers?

October 20, 2020 10:49 am Published by TeamRH

Remote working: Why are law firms struggling to establish a ‘work from home’ culture among lawyers?

Up until March 2020, remote working had never been subject to such a surge. The outbreak of the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 and the subsequent national lockdown meant that the percentage of employees (across all sectors) working from home has risen to 40%.

Whilst, in today’s climate, most companies are generally adopting and implementing remote working initiatives, some companies are still reluctant to include this new way of working into their business model. Among them are corporate law firms.

The consensus is clear; the work climate will not return to how it was prior to the coronavirus outbreak. It has marked a turning point in the way that people work, and remote working is on track to becoming an integral part of French companies and their existing work practices. According to sociologist Denis Monneuse, “There will be no going back.” to the pre-COVID-19 working environment. He also states that “In countless companies, the social, technological and security obstacles of remote working were overcome overnight.” Social obstacles mostly concerned the fact that managers prefer having face to face contact with their team. Having been long implemented in many countries (in particular the Netherlands, Finland, Brazil, India and Australia), France is finally switching to remote working.

In France, this initiative seems to be working well. Several surveys have shown that a large proportion of people, employees or managers, are satisfied with working from home. Despite needing a clearer framework and clearer rules, this approach to work is starting to find its feet in the business world.

Similarly, numerous companies are starting to reorganise their business models to incorporate remote working as a long-term solution as opposed to only in a COVID-19 context. However, several companies remain reluctant to take this route. Especially corporate law firms, where working long hours at the office is widely encouraged.

As a recruitment company for the legal profession, we are meeting more and more lawyers who are looking for increased flexibility. These lawyers are not necessarily looking to be able to work from home on a weekly basis, but they would like the option of remote working as a backup, if the situation were to lend itself. This request has undoubtably increased since the outbreak of COVID-19. Lawyers often oppose the fact that their current firm is against the concept of working from home, especially if they do not give reasons for their refusal.

Despite this, Les Echos stipulated in a recent magazine article that several law firms were an exception to the rule. For example, for several years Allen & Overy have allowed all their workers to work from home for one day a week. This is also a key selling point of their firm, which helps attract the best candidates. Meanwhile, law firm Red Smith has long seized the opportunity of remote working as a means to expand internationally. Furthermore, in September of last year, DS Avocats also incorporated working from home into their law firm, on the basis of an agreement which authorised an employee to work from home once a week.

But for the majority of corporate law firms and their employees, the end of lockdown marked a return to the office.

As such, how can we explain such a reluctance to remote working across law firms?

The main argument put forward by associates and team leaders is often related to the imperative need to be in the office, particularly for the handling of cases and the collaboration of lawyers working on these cases. In addition to this, the decline in the sense of belonging and the fear of losing social ties- or even the wasted time due to an increase in different communication methods – are all fears shared by associates of corporate law firms.

But can one day of remote working really break the social bonds created within a team? At TeamRH, we, ourselves, work from home and so for us, this argument lacks substance. Isn’t the central issue regarding law firm’s reluctance to incorporate remote working into their companies the question of trust amongst their employees?

It is undeniable that tomorrow, the most attractive and sought-after corporate law firms, among candidates, will be those who can offer the option of working from home several days a month.