Law Firms and the Case for Hybrid Work  

By Stephanie Leontis, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Workplace Solutions

The legal services industry is at a turning point. Work from home, while not unheard of before the pandemic, was thrust upon law firms practically overnight — and overall, the workforce responded favorably. Associates and staff appreciate working remotely, citing the lack of a commute and the ease of working out of a home office as among the many factors leading to an improved work-life balance.  

Covid-19 Threatens to Blow Up Law Firms’ Intense Office Culture—for Good,” read a headline in The Wall Street Journal. “Remote Work is Here to Stay and Here’s Why it Matters,” said another from The Bar Association of San Francisco.

But law firm leaders are less enthused about remote work, especially as clients push them toward getting employees back in the office. Big Law especially faces these pressures, with high-profile clients like Morgan Stanley announcing that they expect their legal firms to improve client service by requiring attorneys to work from the office.

It’s a ripe environment for hybrid work, the business model in which employees work some days in the office and some days remotely. Attorneys still enjoy some of the perks of working from home, while firms can more easily nurture personal relationships and offer vital face-to-face client interactions on the days when employees are in the corporate office.  

But is hybrid work beneficial for both the attorneys who are demanding more flexibility in their day-to-day work ― and the firms that employ them?  


The Benefits of Hybrid Work for Law Firms

Hybrid work has its potential challenges, to be sure, such as employee isolation and culture clashes between remote and in-office employees. But legal firms that show a willingness to experiment with a hybrid work model point out the following advantages.

Improved employee health and well-being

Attorneys and staff alike report that remote work has resulted in a better work-life balance and increased well-being. The stress of commuting is reduced or eliminated. Employees generally have more control over their remote office environment, making for a more satisfied workforce. And fewer in-office interactions (along with stringent health and sanitation protocols to protect employees from illness when they’re in the office) mean a lower spread of disease.

Higher productivity

Not only does the lack of a commute lower employee stress, but it also correlates with greater productivity. Take Big Law, where the move to remote work was accompanied by a 10% increase in an associate’s average annual billable hours, according to a Wells Fargo Private Bank survey. One explanation is the time formerly spent commuting is now spent carrying out billable work. Another is that the lack of in-office distractions creates an environment conducive to the deep-thinking work critical in the legal industry.

Increased job satisfaction

In an industry prone to burnout, it isn’t surprising that a boost in employee well-being, lack of office distractions, and higher levels of concentration and productivity have led to greater job satisfaction. Consider the findings of a Bloomberg Law survey in Q4 2021. On a scale of 1-10, lawyers who reported improvement in well-being ranked job satisfaction at an average of 7.3, compared to an average job satisfaction score of 4.1 for those who reported a decline in well-being.  

“Work-life balance is the most influential factor in an associate’s decision to jump to another firm. Sixty percent of associates said they would consider leaving their firm for better work-life balance, compared to only 27% of associates who said they would leave their firm for higher compensation.” ― Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal 

A larger talent pool

It’s no secret that firms are battling for talent in a fiercely competitive arena. As attorneys increasingly expect the option to work remotely, a hybrid model helps recruitment and retention by offering the flexibility employees seek. But the benefit extends beyond job satisfaction. It also opens positions to associates who live farther away from the main office and wouldn’t consider, say, a daily 3-hour commute ― but would be willing to do so a few times a week.

Lower daily expenses

Reduced day-to-day expenses are another area where both the workforce and the workplace benefit from hybrid work. Commuting costs, meals, and even the need for an office wardrobe are slashed from personal budgets. Firms also realize costs savings for items like business meals and travel. But the biggest savings are found in what is typically the second-biggest expense for any business, behind their workforce: real estate.

Reduced real estate needs  

With fewer bodies in the office each day, law firms are either shrinking their real estate footprint or planning to do so. A recent Cushman & Wakefield survey shows that a growing number of firms are signing leases for significantly smaller square footage. Key stats from the survey:

  • 24% of legal firms are making drastic changes in their workplace
  • The legal sector is downsizing its real estate needs from 10% to 30% on average
  • By later this year, there’s a predicted 50% growth in global business office vacancy  


The Future Law Firm

What does all this mean for the future of the legal office? It’s too early to say definitively. Some firms predict hybrid work is here to stay and are making the most of it, while others are finding it more challenging than fully remote work and are advocating for a full return to the office. But it is clear that to make hybrid work a success, firms will need to manage some practical considerations, including the technology to support a hybrid legal services environment.

To dive deeper into this topic and explore some of the technologies powering hybrid work, check out our on-demand webinar The Resilient Workplace: The Tech Businesses Need for Long-Term Success.