Law firms seeking to attract quality lawyers have done just about everything short of providing holiday homes in the south of France, although even that has probably been done.
There have been attractions like Clifford Chance’s London office bar, The Budgie and a swimming pool overlooking Canary Wharf. There are coffee bars and hairdressers, concierge services to book theatre and concert tickets, in-house gyms and sleep pods.
But in COVID, times are changing and increasingly the big law firms in the US, UK and elsewhere are permitting their employees to work from home either permanently or part-time.
Many lawyers are now planning a future that will see the law office become a place to meet and create teamwork ‘bonding’ – a place to socialise, train and collaborate but no longer the actual fulltime place of work.
The global agile work policy that many big law firms are deploying has let firm employees spend 20-50 per cent of their working time at home.
The Financial Times reported that Linklaters has announced a new global working policy permitting the part-time work opportunity, while Herbert Smith Freehills this provide up to 40 per cent, even if offices are fully open and social distancing rules are removed.
Slater & Gordon has said homeworking for its 2,000 or so staff will become the norm in future.
In Hong Kong, Herbert Smith Freehills chief executive Justin D’Agostino said the new policy had received an enthusiastic reaction from staff.
One lawyer messaged him to say it was a “game changer” for working parents. “I’m in no doubt offices will play a very important role going forward for law firms but I think it’s right to give people more flexibility when offices fully reopen,” D’Agostino says.
“We have done some complex transactions and big filings during the pandemic and it has all gone successfully,” he said. “In any walk of life people learn from their peers [by working next to them],” says Simon Davis, a litigator who is current president of the Law Society.
A survey of 62 law firms across Europe by consultancy RSG about the impact of coronavirus on their work revealed that just over a quarter said remote working had resulted in a rise in productivity.
Almost half those surveyed said they expected a long-term change in the way office space is used. The pandemic has also accelerated the use of technology, such as video calls, electronic signatures and document management systems among other developments, including the now-famed Zoom calls.
The move from permanent office locations to the agile working environment is only set to continue. However, the role of the prestige office as a place to regroup and meet is unlikely to change for law firms used to having the prestige address that provides the necessary cache to impress clients.
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