By Ron Bockstahler, CEO
As most of the world is emerging from the pandemic and trying to figure out what the new normal will look like, many law firms and professional organizations are moving to a hybrid work environment. It’s not like most of us have a lot of choice. It’s an employee labor market and to keep great employees, you must be more flexible than in the past. This past Sunday I was at a benefit for The Simon Wiesenthal Center and sat with the co-managing partner of an 18-attorney law firm. At dinner he stated, “If I go into the office tomorrow and demand our attorneys come back to the office every day, most will quit. They all are in high demand, with too many options and do not want to come into the office every day.” He even referenced a law firm larger than his that recently announced they are transitioning to a 100% virtual work environment.
The one area my dinner guest was concerned about is how do you develop new associates if you rarely see them in person? It turns out this is a big concern for many firms that hire young associates. Virtual law firms have been around for years, and most have grown at a fast pace during the pandemic. The difference is most of the established virtual law firms such as FisherBroyles only recruit experienced lawyers or as they claim, “partner-level attorneys”. But if you’re a solo with ambitions of growing your firm by adding young associates, a purely virtual office model can be difficult.
In full disclosure, I founded a company that provides flexible office space to law firms back in 2002. So, I have been singing about the values of flexible and virtual office space for a long time, mostly on deaf ears in the legal community. Well, maybe not totally deaf ears, we do serve over 800 law firms. My point is, if you are a rain maker and want to grow your firm by hiring young associates to perform the lion’s share of the work, you need some type of office space where you can spend time with your associates to develop them. You are building a law firm based on a different business model than firms like FisherBroyles or Potomac Law Group.
In a different meeting with a founding partner of a 7-attorney law firm last month, this issue of developing new associates was a hot topic. This firm gave up the office space they had for 20 years midway through the pandemic and took a virtual office at one of my Chicago offices. It seemed like this would be a permanent arrangement since the senior partners are empty nesters and enjoyed working from home. But when two associates, with 5 and 7 years’ experience respectively, left for in-house positions, mindsets changed. The question became, how do we develop two new associates working 100% remotely? The solution they settled on was for most of the firm to remain virtual, but to add two permanent offices to spend 2-3 days each week working with the new associates in-person. When you break down the cost between 2 offices in a law firm office suite versus their long-time home with a direct lease, the savings amount to a bit over $240,000 annually.
More important than the financial savings, the firm has been able to create a hybrid work model that satisfies the needs of the partners and the young associates. I’ll keep singing the praises for flexible and virtual office space for 20 more years, but based on what I am seeing today, it won’t be on deaf ears. The legal industry is changing for the better and hopefully these changes will result in a more balanced work/life model that supports individual attorneys while allowing the firm to maintain the connection and culture that develops from in-person interaction between attorneys.
Want to find out more about how your firm could benefit from a hybrid work model? Start a conversation with us here.