How law firm hybrid working policies are evolving

​How law firm hybrid working policies are evolving in 2023

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When the world was catapulted into lockdown back in March 2020, this marked the start of a working revolution, with the majority of office-based roles instantly forced to become fully remote.

Ever since then, most law firms have adopted a hybrid working policy, with employees spending a few days per week working from the office and a few days working remotely.

Yet the question of 'how many days in the office?' is one that employers and employees are still navigating, more then 3 years on.

Hybrid working remains a hot topic of conversation for both employers and employees.

In fact, the most common question I frequently get asked by candidates is:

“What’s the firm’s hybrid working policy?”

Additionally, hiring managers and HR also ask this question, inquiring about what other firms are doing and how many days a week employees are spending in the office.

So, how are law firms navigating hybrid working in 2023?

To answer this question, let’s delve into the current hybrid working landscape within the US legal sector.

This information is based on insights from our law firm clients, as well as public announcements made by various law firms and conversations I’ve had with legal marketing & BD professionals in New York and Washington D.C.

The current state of hybrid working in the legal sector in 2023

It's rather ironic that Zoom, the platform that facilitated remote and hybrid working for many businesses, recently announced its plans to bring employees back to the office, stating that a "structured hybrid more effective."

This move has prompted many firms to consider the importance of in-person interactions for business models.

At the time of writing, most law firms are mandating a minimum of 3 days a week in the office.

However, an increasing number of firms are leaning toward expecting a minimum of 4 days a week in the office.

Firms that have already adopted a '4 days a week in the office' policy include:

  • Visions & Elkins

  • Ropes & Gray

  • Weil Gotshal

  • Davis Polk

  • Skadden

  • Sidley Austin

​​How do hybrid working policies differ between UK and US law firms?

Interestingly, there does seem to be a distinction between US-based firms and UK-based firms.

In New York and Washington D.C., US law firms have been slightly more inclined to adopt a four-day-in the office working schedule.

However, most UK firms are leaning towards a three days in the office policy.

For instance, Slaughter & May and Allen & Overy allow up to 40% remote working time, and Clifford Chance along with Linklaters, offer up to 50% remote working.

How will law firm hybrid working policies evolve?

Although predicting the exact future landscape is challenging, we expect that most law firms will continue to operate on a ‘3 days in the office’ model. This tends to work well for both employers and employees, with a mixture of in-person interaction and some flexibility for the days worked remotely.

Nevertheless, we also expect an increasing number of law firms to move towards a ‘4 days in the office’ approach. Rationale behind this shift is usually to provide comprehensive training for junior team members and enhance the firm's overall culture.

Firms are expecting teams to be in the office more often

Based on my conversations with legal marketing & business development professionals as well as hiring managers, I've noticed that law firms are becoming stricter about the 3 days a week in the office policies.

Three days in the office is increasingly considered to be the minimum expectation, and the overall trend indicates that employees are likely to spend more time in the office than working remotely.

While remote working roles will persist, they might become more competitive and harder to secure.

How will hybrid working evolve in the future?

From our observations and conversations with law firm hiring managers, I predict that there won't be a universal approach, but I do expect that in BigLaw in particular, we will start to see a trend towards more days in being spent in the office, perhaps increasing from 3 to 4 days.

It will be intriguing to observe whether any law firms revert to a five-day in the office policy, and if they do, how this will be received by staff.

How the evolving hybrid working landscape could affect hiring and retention

To wrap up, the hybrid working landscape is still evolving and is influenced by a variety of factors.

It's clear that there's no one-size-fits-all solution, and law firms are adjusting their policies to best suit their specific circumstances.

However, firms should be mindful when changing policies that a significant challenge lies in finding and retaining skilled candidates.

While firms are leaning towards more in-office presence, many marketing & business development professionals still seek flexibility in their work arrangements.

Striking the right balance between accommodating flexible working preferences and meeting the firm's objectives will be crucial for attracting and retaining top talent in the competitive legal market.

As the hybrid working model continues to develop, both firms and candidates will need to navigate these complexities to ensure a productive and harmonious work environment for all parties involved.