Business Tips » The New Hybrid Office Model for Law Firms Is Here to Stay

The New Hybrid Office Model for Law Firms Is Here to Stay

“In January 2018, Hanson Bridgett’s law firm San Francisco headquarters occupied three floors at 425 Market Street. The lease on that space cost the firm $1.6 million per floor per year.”

This story from the Harvard Business Review represents a big hurdle law firms face. In the last few years, rents have gone significantly up, making law firm owners wonder if it would make more sense financially to free up the budget and go fully remote.

Legal professionals engaged in a focused discussion over documents in a stylish coworking space, showcasing a collaborative environment tailored for lawyers and law firms.

But that was not the solution either, as many law firms found. For example, big law firms in the UK started reverting to full-time office attendance, reporting a significant drop in productivity, client rapport, networking, and even employees’ mental health with remote work. One of these firms, Winn Solicitors, also reported, “Not everyone liked the decision to head back into the office, so we lost a few senior lawyers as the majority of other law firms in the North East do offer hybrid working.”

There is also a clear generational divide. The 2022 Practice Forward Report by The American Bar Association found that 44% of lawyers practicing 10 years or less were more likely to leave their current job for one that offers a greater ability to work remotely. At the other end of the age spectrum, only 13% of those practicing over 40 years would leave their place of employment for the greater ability to work remotely.

More than three years after the COVID-19 pandemic started, the way lawyers work is changing forever, and people want options. There is not one generalized consensus about how remote work affects lawyers’ productivity and satisfaction. While some studies find that working from home increases productivity, other studies find that having no boundaries between work and life actually reduces productivity. While some studies find that workers feel more motivated working from home, other studies find that people’s mental health suffers when they stop those daily and spontaneous interactions with teammates and clients.

The Hybrid Model Is Here to Stay

Collier’s North America Law Firm Advisory Group Spotlight Report found that, in 2023, only one out of every five attorneys will return to the office full-time. The other 80% will embrace the hybrid model. Some lawyers will share offices with others, rotating office time with work-from-home time. Others will work mainly from home, attending the office only when they need it.

Not everyone is fully equipped to work from home. Some get distracted by their kids, are not so versed in digital technologies, and struggle with back pain, trying to work at the end of their beds.

Lawyers, unlike other staff, often have face-to-face client interactions and court appearances that require their physical presence in the office. Some functions like litigation support, document filing, and client meetings are also better fit for on-site collaboration. There is also the factor of perception: According to data from AM Law 25 firm McDermott Will & Emery, lawyers who come into the office more frequently tend to be viewed as “high performers” who take advantage of career development opportunities, soaking up opportunities to engage and connect with senior partners.

How the Hybrid Model Works in Practice

Here are some examples of law firms that have embraced the hybrid model, and what they are doing to make the transition smoothly:

  • Law firm Knights and Signature Litigation encourage their staff to attend the office five days per week, but allow employees to determine how much is needed. The rules are more flexible for people who need to commute long hours. “We trust our people to be where they need to be and do not prescribe rules about set times,” said CEO David Beech.
  • Law firm Vinson & Elkins announced a four-day in-office schedule, allowing their staff to work remotely on either Monday or Friday. Other law firms have found that their sweet spot is three days.
  • According to research conducted by Legal IT Insider in association with Philips, the most popular hybrid model is working more than half the week in the office (52% of respondents), with working less than half the week in the office (23%), and giving staff the option to choose their hours of working from home (23%).
  • Some law firms are more strict with office attendance with junior lawyers, so they can better learn from their peers. The same goes for new hires, regardless of their level of experience, so they can quickly integrate into the culture of the company.

Every law firm is unique and each team needs to experiment and see what works better for them.

Five Tips for Transitioning Into A Hybrid Work Arrangement

Here are five tips that can help any law firm transitioning into hybrid work to make it a success:

          1. Maintain Robust Security Protocols. According to LawYaw, around 29% of law firms experienced security breaches during the shift to virtual work. Recommendations include using firm-provided IT equipment, implementing VPNs, password vaults, and offering training on recognizing phishing scams.
          2. Get the Team In Sync. With hybrid models, the entire team needs to communicate more closely. Consider regular check-ins with each employee, making time for work-life balance discussions during briefings, and providing virtual invitations for all meetings and events. Encouraging in-person attendees to engage virtually also prevents isolation of remote team members.
          3. Engagement Strategies. Combatting loneliness among remote workers is crucial for maintaining team mental health and morale. Virtual events, personal updates during team meetings, and dedicated instant message channels for office chit-chat are recommended. Fostering a culture that discourages an ‘us and them’ mentality between virtual and in-person staff is essential.
          4. Document Management. Firms are advised to utilize new tools to reassess their document management systems, especially if disruptions occurred during the pandemic. Ensuring remote accessibility to crucial legal documents is essential for a seamless workflow.
          5. Focus on Impact, Not Just Productivity. Working remotely, it is important to prioritize the quality of meetings over quantity. Focus on the outcomes of interactions to create a more productive environment.

Working at an office and working from home have unique advantages, so it is important to design policies that suit your firm’s and your employee’s specific needs. And while new challenges will arise from this new setting, staying flexible and adaptable will also create new opportunities for a more productive, cost-effective, and engaging environment for lawyers.

Amata has a unique “office-as-a-service” model that allows law firms to seamlessly transition into a hybrid model, without losing the support services and productive environment a traditional office provides Our flexible plans and scalable solutions ensure you protect your profitability, while having access to modern offices that meet your exact needs.

Contact us today to schedule a tour of our locations. Discover how we can support your growth, whether you choose to work remotely, on-site, or opt for a hybrid model.