Legal and business publications have been writing extensively on the reopening of law firms, and business in general. Most of these articles discuss the pros and cons of reopening the office. They also discuss the mixed feelings of employees about their return to in-person work. So when I saw an article on law.com, I was somewhat taken aback. It was based on a letter that Eric Grossman, Chief Legal Officer of Morgan Stanley, sent to his outside law firms. The title of the article says it all – Our Profession Cannot Long Endure a Remote Work Model. This is the first article that I have seen from the client perspective. I ask myself if this is a one-off situation. If this is more than a one-off situation, will clients demand your return to the office? And if so, what does this mean to you?
Morgan Stanley’s Rationale
The following quotes from Grossman’s letter clearly explain his position.
I feel the need to sound a warning in light of what I have generally observed about the lack of urgency to return lawyers to the office, and the various statements and policies I have seen about the ability of your lawyers (both partners and associates) to work a significant, and in some cases a majority, of their time remotely.
“We choose to hire you all because of the quality of your lawyers and the product they deliver. I strongly believe that firms that return to the office will have a significant performance advantage over those that do not, and we will see that advantage reflected in their client service and the ability to deliver successful outcomes for Morgan Stanley.
As a general rule, we will not be accommodating Zoom participation in critical meetings.
Law firms who receive significant work from Morgan Stanley, may require those attorneys to work from the office. However, I wonder if this is the first round of such client demands. Also, I wonder if law firms will use this as a basis to push the reopening issue. In other words, will they tell their lawyers that the decision is not in management’s control?
Another thought that comes to me is what happens to lawyers who do not do any work for the client making such demands. For example, nobody in the firm’s environmental law group does work for Morgan Stanley. Will the firm require them to come into the office too? For argument’s sake, let’s say that the firm requires all attorneys to come to the office. In this example, management says they made this decision to create a fair playing field for all. Fair enough, right?
If you are in the camp that says the office should be opened and all employees need to return, then it seems like a fair policy. On the other hand, if you are not comfortable going back to the office, or need the option of having flexibility, you will feel differently. Likewise, you probably will not like this policy if you learned how to work from home effectively and efficiently. This is especially true if your clients are happy and do not care about your physical location.
If the firm has a policy about returning to the office that does not work for you, you have options. There are plenty of law firms that are flexible regarding remote work, whether through a hybrid option or the opportunity to work completely remotely. If you are interested in exploring your options, contact us to schedule a call.