Remote, Hybrid, or In-Office for Lawyers | Martindale-Avvo

Remote vs. Hybrid vs. Back to the Office: Law Firm Edition

The attraction of continuing to work from home in a post-pandemic era is tough to ignore. In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted every aspect of our lives. Law firms quickly adapted to remain connected to clients, courts, and peers through remote work. 

In many industries, there is a renewed drive to return to the office. Is this the most practical and productive setup for law firms, or will most firms choose something different? Here are some key considerations and how law firms can best manage these arrangements. 

Remote vs. In-Office vs. Hybrid — What’s the Difference?

Where you are physically located when doing your legal work each day defines what type of working arrangement you are using — remote vs. in-office vs. hybrid. With remote work, most or all work is done from home or some other location. In-office work is self-explanatory—it happens inside your firm’s office. With hybrid work, a portion of the work gets done at home, while there are other in-office days, sometimes by requirement. 

Prior to the pandemic, many law firms only knew in-office work. Being forced to go remote due to a global healthcare crisis wasn’t ideal. However, the exercise revealed many opportunities for lawyers through various lessons learned during the process. One Harvard Business Review piece on the shift to remote work outlines some of those lessons. They include things like prioritizing culture, being intentional with your plans, and having a strong IT strategy. 

Where Legal Work Happens — What Do Lawyers Prefer?

Several national surveys have addressed various options for legal work, including weighing the debate between remote vs. hybrid vs. in-office work. The American Bar Association surveyed lawyers in 2022, with 44% of respondents who have practiced law for ten years or less indicating they’d be willing to leave their current positions for ones that offered more remote work. 

In that same survey, attorneys who work remotely or on a hybrid basis report that neither their productivity nor their billable hours have been negatively impacted by these working arrangements. Women lawyers have especially noted that they have benefited from being away from the office as it helps them balance family and work responsibilities. 

Why Many Law Firms Are Opting for a Hybrid Model

The National Association of Law Placement (NALP) surveyed law schools and law firms across the U.S. and Canada about how legal work is getting done. The results overwhelmingly favored hybrid work. Specifically, 98% of employers and 75% of law schools reported working in a hybrid model. 

Hybrid work models allow for the greatest flexibility in legal working arrangements. According to the ABA’s Practice Forward survey, lawyers appreciate having the flexibility to choose when they will work in the office and when they will do so from home. According to Gallup, here are some of the main benefits of law firms using a hybrid model:

  • Improved work-life balance
  • More efficient use of time
  • Freedom to choose where and when to work
  • Higher productivity
  • Burnout mitigation
  • Easier work coordination with peers
  • Improved co-worker relationships
  • Increased team collaboration

This type of work isn’t without a few challenges, however. The top ones include less access to work equipment and resources and feeling less connected to the organization’s culture. Fortunately, law firms can address these challenges by approaching hybrid work intentionally. 

Important Factors When Implementing a Hybrid Model

If your law firm decides to try hybrid work or wants to make its current hybrid arrangement better, there are several things to consider when designing an effective program. 

1. Clear Guidelines and Policies

Clear guidelines and policies should outline how your law firm’s hybrid work arrangement will operate, including expectations surrounding work hours, client communication, data security, and various performance metrics.  

2. Technology Infrastructure

To make remote work successful, law firms need to invest in appropriate technology infrastructure, including cloud-based storage, robust case management systems, and appropriate cybersecurity solutions. 

3. Communications Solutions

Effective communication solutions and practices are essential to maintain collaboration among team members and between attorneys and clients. Solutions for hybrid work include instant messaging, video conferencing, virtual meeting platforms, and document-sharing apps.

4. Performance Metrics

Consider your goals for hybrid work and create some key performance indicators (KPIs) to establish benchmarks and track performance. These might include things like client satisfaction and billable hours. 

5. Client Interactions

The arrangement you chose should not have a negative impact on your client interactions. If anything, it should improve them. For example, you can offer clients the option of in-person or virtual meetings for convenience. 

6. Training and Support

Offer your staff ongoing training and support so they can effectively navigate hybrid work and everything it involves. This might include developing some new skills and work practices. 

7. Employee Culture & Well-Being

Finally, make sure you remain focused on your firm’s overall culture and each employee’s well-being. While you are promoting work-life balance, you can also bring people together for team-building on the days they come into the office. 

How Technology is Making Hybrid Legal Work More Effective

Legal technology has helped to bridge the gap between in-office and remote work for lawyers. In 2021, the legal tech industry generated roughly $27.6 billion in revenue globally, and the market is expected to expand by over 4% annually through 2027. 

While the drivers for the legal tech industry aren’t entirely attributed to remote work, this type of work arrangement benefits from these solutions. Tools that law firms increasingly rely on for remote work include:

  • Cloud-based storage
  • File-sharing and eSignature tools
  • Video conferencing software
  • Legal practice management software
  • Messaging apps and other communication tools

Law firms have several options when choosing how and where attorneys and legal staff work. While the traditional approach is in-office work, remote work has become more popular. A hybrid solution will likely become a solid compromise, particularly in light of the many technology tools available such as Ngage live chat and Captorra legal intake management

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