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September 2022 - Return to Office


LawfulWaffle

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KOMODO
  • Lawyer
1 hour ago, dyel said:

Our firm mandated back in office 5 days a week for junior lawyers and 4 days in office for senior lawyers.  Some people are very upset about this. 

Out of curiosity, if you are comfortable sharing, is your firm small (>10 lawyers), medium (10-50 lawyers), or large (50+ lawyers)? And are the support staff also required to attend every day?

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epeeist
  • Lawyer
1 hour ago, KOMODO said:

Out of curiosity, if you are comfortable sharing, is your firm small (>10 lawyers), medium (10-50 lawyers), or large (50+ lawyers)? And are the support staff also required to attend every day?

Non-law office but your mention of support staff, I'm in a medium-sized non-law business that pre-Covid people pretty much in the office every day (barring usual reasons), post-Covid has shifted to more people working at home sometimes including support staff who will e.g. forward their line to their cell phone if doing reception. I'd estimate at least one day per week at home for most people and fairly casual, just noting on outlook calendar if going to be working from home.

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On 9/1/2022 at 12:19 PM, KOMODO said:

Out of curiosity, if you are comfortable sharing, is your firm small (>10 lawyers), medium (10-50 lawyers), or large (50+ lawyers)? And are the support staff also required to attend every day?

We’re midsized leaning closer to large firms (won’t say anymore for anonymity). Support staff do not have to come in everyday. 

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KOMODO
  • Lawyer
15 minutes ago, dyel said:

We’re midsized leaning closer to large firms (won’t say anymore for anonymity). Support staff do not have to come in everyday. 

Wow, surprising on both fronts! I hadn't heard of any major firms getting lawyers back in every day or nearly every day yet, and even more surprising, I would have thought admin staff would get mandated back at least as much as lawyers! It will be interesting to see if other places follow suit.

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CleanHands
  • Lawyer

That is interesting to me as well. I work in government but the lawyers in my office have a hybrid model while the support staff are required to be in the office.

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BlockedQuebecois
  • Lawyer
1 hour ago, dyel said:

We’re midsized leaning closer to large firms (won’t say anymore for anonymity). Support staff do not have to come in everyday. 

Seems like a recipe for the firm to become a midsized leaning closer to small one. 

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Randomdude
  • Lawyer

In my opinion, three to four days per week in office is a bit much for a hybrid model. 

 

"Law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP said in a statement that on Sept. 6 its offices will move to a hybrid working model where most employees will work three to four days a week in the office, subject to operational requirements and local public health guidance."

https://www.cp24.com/news/remote-work-debate-intensifies-as-companies-mandate-return-to-office-after-labour-day-1.6053579

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Aureliuse
  • Lawyer

I have been back in the office since July 2021 - usually 4 days a week, if I am busy, 5 days a week.

I find that I am more efficient in the office than at home (Thanks glowing gaming computer).

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Almost everyone is more efficient in the office. There are issues with commuting, of course, but in terms of actual work, there is almost no question that you can do it better when you are surrounded by your colleagues where that's possible.

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10 hours ago, Jaggers said:

Almost everyone is more efficient in the office. There are issues with commuting, of course, but in terms of actual work, there is almost no question that you can do it better when you are surrounded by your colleagues where that's possible.

I'm not sure if I fully agree with this. In my case, I've found that I'm sometimes less efficient when I'm on the deadline for something. It helps to remove the noise (the conversation in the morning when you get in, the need to either pack a lunch or get something from downstairs, the time it takes me to just *settle in* before work) etc. And I think the issue is more than just commuting - if you take away the time needed to get ready for work generally (finding clothes to wear, packing said lunch, the commute itself etc), you end up with more time to *actually work*. I'm way more exhausted on days when I'm in the office than when I'm outside it.

Don't get me wrong. I *like* being near my colleagues and I want to be in a couple of days a week minimum, but I'm fully aware that those days are often a mess for me in terms of actually getting through my work. 

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Pantalaimon
  • Lawyer
2 hours ago, Jaggers said:

Almost everyone is more efficient in the office. There are issues with commuting, of course, but in terms of actual work, there is almost no question that you can do it better when you are surrounded by your colleagues where that's possible.

Our partnership has been pretty transparent that one of the reasons they intend to keep hybrid is because billables are higher with WFH.

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Ohshmagoda
  • Lawyer

I don’t think the evidence supports that workers are universally more efficient working from an office (or even that a majority are). Don’t the recent studies overwhelmingly suggest the opposite? Anecdotes will vary of course.

I think there are “work culture” arguments for in-person work in certain situations. I would want the people making these decisions to consider their culture critically when determining whether in-person work is actually important in their workplace. Broad return-to-work mandates give me doubt.

I think folks on both sides of the issue would be really interested in hearing of any metrics suggesting that there are measurable benefits to in-person work. The messaging from the top so far has failed to be convincing to people that like hybrid/remote work. To the extent that there have been any downsides to remote work, it seems to me that the big firms have made zero attempts to address perceived issues. Kind of feels like “it ain’t broke but it’s time to fix it”, mixed with a bit of “we’ve tried nothing and are all out of ideas” (to the extent you think there actually is something that can be fixed with a return to work).

Final thought - remote work has meant very different things to different people. Some people have benefited by spending different hours with their kids than the typical lawyer schedule allows. Others have been able to spend weeks or months reunited with their parents/siblings/families/friends that don’t live in the city where they work. Others may take great comfort in avoiding unnecessary COVID exposure, either for their own health or for immune compromised individuals in their life. There are many different reasons why the flexibility might be valuable to someone. Just because remote work isn’t your jam doesn’t mean that it isn’t valuable to someone else. The requirement to be in the office 150-300 days a year (as opposed to none) is not trivial to the individual and could be one of the most attractive elements of their employment. Even if remote work was an unthinkable accommodation pre-2020, it certainly feels like the “cost” of accommodating remote work in the big law setting is either invisible or irrelevant in many situations.

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Rashabon
  • Lawyer

The cost of accommodating permanent remote work is invisible if you don't plan to build relationships with your colleagues in a business built around relationship building. I've loved working from home but it's because I was well established and very busy. It is tough to get to know the juniors when they aren't around and I can only communicate with them by phone or Microsoft Teams. Mentorship is much tougher in a virtual environment. Junior associates aren't developing at the same rate as pre-WFH, in my experience.

A hybrid model to accommodate different preferences and to allow some flexibility is ideal. But ultimately being around the people you work with in the legal business is important. I don't know how I can integrate a junior in business development that's conducted in person if I never see them in person.

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Yeah, I think I've been pretty clear above that I don't think working from home is going anywhere, but there is definitely a lot of value built up working in person together with your colleagues, even if it's not 100% of the time.

And for most employers, remote work wasn't unthinkable before the pandemic. Before I had a baby, I worked from home all the time, though not through any formal arrangement. Many of the people I worked with had arrangements to work from home one or more days a week.

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Bob Jones
  • Lawyer
22 hours ago, Jaggers said:

Almost everyone is more efficient in the office. There are issues with commuting, of course, but in terms of actual work, there is almost no question that you can do it better when you are surrounded by your colleagues where that's possible.

Yes and no. Yes you’re more efficient in the sense that there’s not the comfort of your home and the temptations of Netflix, taking a nap on your couch, etc to distract you compared to office work, but you don’t have chatty colleagues coming in to your office to talk ahout who knows what, no commuting to deal with, and an ability to work late when at home. So there’s pros and cons in terms of efficiency home vs office. 

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It's not that I think there aren't pros and cons, I just think that in most cases, it's totally false for people to say "I can do my job just as well working from home 5 days a week most weeks". That's not true for pretty much any job in the legal profession, other than some that were already remote before the pandemic.

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Pantalaimon
  • Lawyer

See, that's what I don't understand. I get that that's your view, but the hours the firms were able to bill - a direct measure of productivity for the most 'legal' of jobs in our profession - were record breaking during mandatory WFH. Most studies that I was aware of, pre covid, have found workers are more productive at home (and a quick google of pandemic area literature seems to line up with that: e.g., https://hbr.org/2020/08/research-knowledge-workers-are-more-productive-from-home).

So assuming your view is correct, what's the special sauce that belies the billable hour and academics? The pandemic was a weird time so we can't count it? The increased billables were actually inefficiencies - associates were taking longer and billing more to do the same tasks? That might make sense, actually. Pathway effect, i.e. that we used to work 5 days at the office and that affected the transition to 5-day WFH? Something else?

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LOL. When you're in house, "billable hours" are not a measure of productivity.

But yeah, people are billing longer for the same tasks now.

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We don't have the capacity to fight the firms right now because we're also shorthanded due to everyone working from home, but there is a big fight coming with the firms about stuff that used to take 10 hours now taking 20 hours.

Maybe in the long run we'll all just pay less for real estate, and more for legal services, but our lawyers are not as efficient working from home.

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Pantalaimon
  • Lawyer
6 minutes ago, Jaggers said:

LOL. When you're in house, "billable hours" are not a measure of productivity.

But yeah, people are billing longer for the same tasks now.

OK, but you can't just write off everyone at a firm as not "pretty much any job in the legal profession".

If this alleged inefficiency was a result of people being 100% remote, well, we've been back at least part time for nearly a year now. Wouldn't the 'big fight coming' have magically resolved?

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1 minute ago, Pantalaimon said:

OK, but you can't just write off everyone at a firm as not "pretty much any job in the legal profession".

If this alleged inefficiency was a result of people being 100% remote, well, we've been back at least part time for nearly a year now. Wouldn't the 'big fight coming' have magically resolved?

No, it's still coming. We just don't have time right now.

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Obviously I'm totally agnostic as to how firms organize themselves internally, but if any firm can return to their pre-2020 efficiency in terms of hours, I'll be sending a lot of work their way. The salaries and hourly rates have increased, but there's no reason why the number of hours billed shouldn't go back to pre-2020 levels when things go back to normal.

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Ohshmagoda
  • Lawyer

Maybe the discussion in this thread needs to be more specific about big firm vs smaller shop environments (or solicitor vs litigator work). There’s a ton of dialogue in this thread that is baffling to me as a mid-level lawyer doing solicitor work at a national firm. Aside from situations where there are loud kids at home, it has been extremely rare to hear anyone voice the opinion that they (or others) are more efficient doing solicitor work while sitting in the office tower. I’m also skeptical of the suggestion that lawyers are choosing to continue to work from home at the expense of their efficiency. Big firm associates have not been struggling for hours during the pandemic and most would have gladly worked hundreds of hours less if possible. When associates were truly struggling with the insane pace of summer 2020 to spring 2022 there was literally zero talk about how remote work inefficiencies were contributing to the insane/unsustainable workloads. I regularly hear associates and partners citing their efficiency at home as the reason why they didn’t go into the office on a busy day when they otherwise planned to. 

Remote work is the small talk of choice nowadays and the perspectives found in this thread with respect to the importance of returning to the office seem pretty extreme and not representative of the discussions I’ve participated in (whether that be with associates/partners in my firm, lawyers at other Canadian national firms, lawyers at US/international firms, or client legal/management teams). As noted above, it’s also contrary to the academic research that’s being regularly pushed in the media I see (newspapers, podcasts, etc.). It is almost implied in this thread that people wanting to work remotely or that prefer remote work are lazy - this group includes massive workaholics that prioritize their careers and client service over everything else in their lives. I’m not intending to argue on matters of opinion in this thread - if you prefer to work in the office that’s your prerogative - but I am really surprised by the tone from the prominent voices here. 

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realpseudonym
  • Lawyer

I know that it’s been said here already. But as a relatively junior lawyer, it’s really hard to overstate the benefit of being in the office with colleagues, even as a sole. I’ve been in the office for over a year, but my colleagues weren’t for long stretches. I billed just as much. And I’m not sure I knew it at the time, but in hindsight, the quality of my work suffered when I was alone for long periods. I need that in-person presence for mentorship and inspiration. I tried calls, but it’s not the same.

I don’t know. Hopefully it doesn’t sound too arrogant, but I think I’m relatively smart and competent. Which is just to say, if I need it, I have to imagine many other juniors do too. 

Edited by realpseudonym
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