The COVID pandemic’s end is bringing a new challenge: should you go back to the office, and do you want to?
Some firms require their lawyers to return to the office. They even try to lure lawyers back with lunches, presents, and other perks.
If you want to go back to the office, excellent, go for it. But if you are a rainmaking lawyer, if you bring in business, you shouldn’t have to. You should have the option to work when and where you want without having to justify anything.
Over the last two years, we have all proven that we don’t have to be in the office to be productive. Many lawyers, in fact, have increased billable time and business development time because they have cut time out of their commute.
There may be good reasons to go back to the office, and you may end up there more often in the next two years than in the last two, but you should have the option.
Why Firms Want You Back In The Office
Many law firms have invested in beautiful offices now sitting mostly empty. Firm leadership would like to see those offices used, so they are offering incentives to return to the office.
They are trying every tactic, from requiring that everyone return to the office to offering incentives. These incentives can range from free fancy lunches to gifts for showing up to other luxury services at your desk.
Some firms require full-time. Others, such as Cooley, are leaving it up to their lawyers, and some firms have publicly required time in the office, only to back off the requirement. Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett LLP, put a requirement in place, couldn’t enforce it, and is now launching “remote August.” So, who knows where this will end up.
The lack of clear policies can become an issue. While many law firms profess flexibility publicly, we’ve heard of and read about more subtle attempts to “encourage” attendance. Some managers try to intimidate lawyers into showing up more often by asking them to justify themselves – even pressuring senior partners.
Sure, there are legitimate reasons to be in the office
Being in the same office does have some benefits. The chance encounters in the hallway, impromptu lunches, and water-cooler debates can tie the firm together and offer a team approach to individual problems.
There is also a legitimate need for senior partners to mentor junior associates. The associates definitely learn a lot through interacting with partners and getting feedback on work, and this happens as much by chance in the office as on purpose in meetings.
However, firms are not doing a great job aligning schedules.
Even firms that are ostensibly concerned about in-person synergy are simultaneously doing a lousy job of ensuring the right people are together.
Mentoring junior associates is a great idea, but only if the associate is in the office the same day you are – otherwise, what’s the point.
And some partners find that they make the trek into the office for a meeting only to find that others are attending virtually and that an impromptu get-together isn’t going to happen anyway.
And if you are a rainmaking partner, maybe you don’t want to go into the office.
Whatever the firm’s benefits, you may not want to go into the office.
If you’ve saved yourself three hours of commuting time, you may find that you have an hour more for billable time, an hour more for business development, and an hour more for yourself to do as you please – whether spending time with the family or going for a walk.
Many successful lawyers and rainmaking lawyers have discovered that they can build more, grow more, and do more by not going into the office. They benefit, and the firm benefits.
In this environment, motivating yourself to journey into the office can be hard. And, really, you shouldn’t have to do it.
Rainmaking partners should have the flexibility to work how they want.
The reasons above are excellent reasons for going into the office or not going into the office, but ultimately the reasons don’t matter.
Even if your reason for staying home is that you’ve adopted a pandemic puppy that you’re loath to leave alone or don’t want to wear uncomfortable clothes, you should have the option.
As a rainmaking partner, you should have the flexibility to work when and how you want. Your productivity, comfort, and ability to work efficiently are crucial to your success as a lawyer.
Your firm should support you however they can, including allowing you to work from wherever you want to work. You should not be asking for permission to work from home, and nobody should be insisting that you be in the office.
The old model doesn’t work, at least right now
The reasons firms give for requiring lawyers in the office are all accurate and valid, but underlying them all is a broken management model. For many years performance management was based on presence.
But the facetime model doesn’t work now. Maybe it did in the past, and perhaps it will come back, but for now, forcing people to go into an office is a losing proposition.
People are too productive not coming into the office to make this a productivity issue.
The challenge for firms is encouraging mentorship, engagement, and chance meetings in a more virtual or hybrid space. In-person meetings are still valuable but require coordination among participants to make sure they are, in fact, in-person meetings.
If your firm is inflexible, it might be time to look for an alternative
These firm challenges are real and worth thinking through. But from your perspective, they aren’t as relevant.
If you are at a firm that doesn’t give you the flexibility to work where and how you want, makes you come up with excuses, and isn’t working on addressing the fundamental management challenges, then maybe it is time to switch.
Rainmaking partners should enjoy their work, they should have flexibility, and their firm should go out of its way to support them.
We help lawyers find their exact right perfect fit firm
If you are a rainmaker tired of banging your head against a brick wall when you work, however is best for you, let’s talk.
Not all firms are created equal, nor are all lawyers. If you bring in the business, you should be at a firm that allows you to work how you want to, no matter what that looks like. There are other options out there, and we can help you find your exact right perfect fit.