Lawyers working in large law firms are committed to working remotely from home post-pandemic, with almost half willing to walk away if told they had to attend the office full-time, according to a survey.
It also found that half of UK firms were under growing pressure from clients to prioritise diversity in the teams they deal with, but just over a quarter were complying so far.
The survey, by the global resource support company BigHand, canvassed the views of 836 leaders in UK and US firms with over 50 lawyers.
While more than half of firms had brought in policies around hybrid working practices, 45% of staff would look for a new job if told they had to attend the office full-time. Almost as many would leave if they had to work at the office more than three days a week.
The authors concluded: “Two years spent working from home have reminded people of the importance of a better work-life balance.
“As management push for employees to return to the office for a set number of days per week, employee resistance is growing and firms across the board are being advised not to force employees to return to the office.”
Currently 41% of lawyers were working away from the office at least three days a week, the survey said. A similar number reported management was pressing them to work longer hours at the office, despite other findings in the survey that two-thirds of lawyers said remote working was equally as productive as being in the office.
The rationale for wanting lawyers to attend the office more regularly centred around the problems created by managing a dispersed workforce, “not least lawyers undertaking more administrative work rather than delegating it to a more appropriate resource”.
Other concerns included ensuring an even distribution of work between lawyers.
Pressure was unwise, the authors advised: “Given the demand for skilled legal employees and steeply rising employment costs, law firms should be genuinely concerned to understand the extent of employees’ commitment to achieving a flexible working model that meets their needs…
“The legal world has changed. ‘Old school’ ways of working are not just inefficient, they are actively deterring talent. Unless firms address these challenges and make fundamental changes in the way resources are managed, both day-to-day and in the longer term they will not survive.”
The findings on prioritising diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals were that more than half of firms reported growing client pressure to resource legal matters with diversity in mind. Yet just 27% of law firms were prioritising the area.
For example, high-profile companies such as Facebook and Hewlett-Packard had called for law firms to improve racial and gender diversity. Increasingly, for wellbeing reasons, corporate clients did not want their lawyers working long hours, the survey said.
DEI concerns included the need to show improved performance against diversity targets, as well as what it said about both risk and the way firms “reflect and serve communities”.