Most lawyers want flexible working and less time in the office

A report from Thomson Reuters reveals that less than one in ten legal professionals want to return to working regular hours in the office, and would instead prefer to spend over two days a week working remotely.

According to research by Thomson Reuters which analysed data from 2,500 legal professionals, 63% of lawyers are requesting flexible working arrangements following the Covid-19 pandemic, compared with just 22% before the onset of Covid last year. Lawyers would also like to spend 2.1 days a week working from home the research showed.

A significant number (15%) of lawyers have indicated that they want to move to part-time work, which is 4% higher than pre-pandemic statistics. The study also found that the idea of part-time working was most popular with older and female lawyers.

Four in ten lawyers also revealed that boundaries should be set on client contact. A fifth of lawyers want to avoid client contact at weekends, and a quarter are opposed to any contact before 7am and after 11pm on weekdays.

The research suggests that most lawyers want to adopt hybrid remote and office schedules, on a tailored, individual basis. To facilitate this, and to keep professionals satisfied and happy in their jobs, the study indicated that there is a real need to allow people to set their own schedules, rather than be dictated to as to what the balance should be.

This follows reports earlier in the year, which found that one in four legal professionals working in family law are considering leaving the profession due to poor work-life balance.

Lucy Leach, technical research manager at Thomson Reuters said:

“since the pandemic, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in popularity in flexible hours, remote working and part-time work. Lawyers aren’t shying away from long hours, averaging nearly 10 hours per day, but they want to work when they want to, fitting life into work”.

With restrictions as a result of the pandemic now lifted and no official requirement to work remotely, many law firms may be presented with significant challenges in the wake of a return to normal office life, which could impact heavily on job satisfaction, staff retention and recruiting. Many offices have operated with reduced numbers during July and August, but this is expected to increase as more people return to the office over the coming months.

In response, many firms have now introduced flexible working schemes allowing staff to work from home for part of the week. Firms with the most flexible policies are those at Irwin Mitchell, Mishcon de Reya and Womble Bond Dickinson, which do not impose a minimum number of days staff must attend the office each week.

Joanna Whymark, senior associate at RPC, a specialist in the insurance sector, said of the survey findings:

“a compulsory five-day week working in the office was already on the wane prior to the pandemic, with many firms introducing agile working policies (for example, working from home one day a week) in addition to flexible working requests”.

“However Covid galvanised the rollout of technological advancement across law firms and the courts which has seen the legal industry not only survive but thrive during a prolonged period of remote working. Trust in employees to work effectively away from the office full-time has led to sustained levels of productivity and even enhanced levels of profitability over an extended period.”

“Against this backdrop, a return to a compulsory five-day working week in the office will be difficult for law firms to justify, or enforce. Accordingly, most firms are taking a balanced approach to a workforce returning to the office,” she added.

Despite the shift to remote working, some firms are still investing in office premises. Amongst the largest is a new lease agreement signed by Travers Smith for a 13-storey redevelopment in London which will increase the firm’s premises from 115,000 square feet to 158,000 square feet. Additionally, Shoosmiths has relocated to an office almost five times as big as its old premises.

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