3 Considerations for Building Flexible Attorney Work Plans

October 19, 2020

Although it seems that most of us will continue working remotely for the foreseeable future, some law firm leaders have expressed a desire to go back to in-person work in the office because they believe it is necessary for doing business. Page 2’s take on this is that while of course we all wish we could snap our fingers and get back to “normal” (whatever that may mean nowadays), this likely will not happen anytime soon, if ever.

Rather than thinking of a return to the office as a binary issue — either we go back, or we don’t — law leaders could look at it as an opportunity to redefine what flexible scheduling means. As the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reveals, 865,000 women left the workforce last month. There is no question that the pandemic is impacting some workers differently than others. If the goal is to ensure that all lawyers, regardless of their situation, continue to develop business and serve clients, then work plans must be variable and customized. Law firm leaders can make this a reality by checking in on:

Technology. Back in March, firms may have arranged for attorneys to get the tech they needed in order to work remotely. But, seven months on, it’s probably time to audit how your firm is using technology to facilitate remote work. Are the tools useful? Could a different program or approach improve efficiency and encourage more collaboration? What can you do to make sure lawyers working in the office do not unintentionally exclude homebound lawyers from key conversations?

Productivity. Some attorneys may welcome the reprieve that working in the office gives them from a hectic home (especially if you have multiple school-aged kids maxing out the WiFi). Having the option to come into the office might help attorneys focus, bill more hours and get more done throughout the day. For others, forcing them to go back to the office may not result in increased productivity. The challenges of long commutes and childcare arrangements when we are all thrown out of our routines can make arranging an eight-hour work day in the office feel out of reach, adding to the stress level and not increasing productivity. Let’s be honest — the one-size-fits-all approach never worked great for everyone. Now it needs to be laid to rest for good.

Limitations. Do people even want to return to the office? Are they able to? The best way law firm leaders can find this out is by conducting a survey. But why would people answer that question honestly in a law firm culture that rewards long hours and a toxic level of personal sacrifice? It’s clear that without disrupting this status quo, the lawyers who are able to return to the office first will reap the most rewards. And lawyers who can’t do so will face irreparable damage to their careers. Forward-thinking leaders will take concrete steps to prevent that outcome, establish trust and meet partners where they are during this incredibly difficult time.

Whether attorneys continue to work remotely or come back to the office, firms need to remember the ultimate goal: to preserve the long-term health of the firm, including the careers of valuable partners whose life circumstances currently make it difficult for them to return to in-person work. Turning a blind eye to the challenges these attorneys face is not an option.


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