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Is remote working the future for lawyers?

Tags: blog, Covid-19, Market Insights...

The pandemic has changed the world of work for many industries, perhaps forever. Newer sectors, like tech and digital marketing, easily adapted to agile working and have embraced the change. Some industries simply can’t work from home, and others are finding it more difficult to adjust. So what does the future hold for more traditional sectors, such as legal?

It’s clear that since having a taste of remote working, many legal professionals across the UK aren’t keen to rush straight back to 5 days a week in the office and the additional commute. In fact, a new study by legal training company Loeb Leadership finds that 67% of lawyers and staff want to continue to work remotely, even after the pandemic is a distant memory.

Is remote working popular with lawyers?

We spoke to David Holden, National Head of Recruitment at Search Legal about this shift in the market, and what’s he’s noticed with boots on the ground in legal recruitment.

“As recruiters, we’ve found quite a lot of diversity in terms of the firm’s response to remote working,” says David. “I’ve had clients saying they will under no circumstances be adopting the remote model long term, and I’ve heard others saying they’ve given notice on their city centre offices in order to allow staff to enjoy that flexibility. It’s a really mixed bag.”

For some firms, it may not be as simple as allowing all staff to work over Zoom. If partners or clients expect employees to be in the office or attend face-to-face meetings, non-attendance may not meet the client’s demands and ultimately damage the business’ bottom line.

If firms don’t proactively embrace the change that the market demands, what will that mean for their future recruitment?

Narrowing the talent pool

Whilst there has been a noticeable shift in general recruitment to an employer-led market, the first since the 2008 recession, occupations that require workers to have multiple degrees and years of experience will always be client-led to a certain extent. This is clearly evident when looking at the legal sector, particularly higher up the career ladder.

In order to attract the best talent, and to keep existing high-calibre employees, firms have traditionally laid out a plethora of benefits – free parking, bonus schemes, gym memberships and Friday afternoon drinks in the office are all common. But what if employees value flexible working as more attractive than all of these?

“It’s still not 100% clear what impact remote working will have on traditional office working in legal as a whole. What we’ve seen at Search Legal is that it’s the number one requested benefit for our applicants,” says David. “Most firms have surveyed their staff now, and home working is proving exceedingly popular. Staff aren’t asking for a fully remote position, rather just the flexibility if they need it. When you’re getting that kind of feedback from your employees, quite honestly you need to act on it.”

If this trend continues and remote working becomes high on the list of requirements for potential employees, firms that offer no flexibility could struggle to hire the best legal talent, instead having to entice candidates with heritage, salary or clients. Ultimately, even that may not be enough.

“Remote working, or even a degree of flexibility meaning that you’re not in the office 5 days a week, makes your firm much more attractive to candidates. For the firm, it means that key roles can be hired from further away without having to relocate, meaning a much bigger talent pool,” says David. “In fact, we are already seeing candidates stray away from firms where they are not openly offering this.”

An investment in technology

As one of the more traditional industries, technological adoption has been slow generally in the legal sector. Once the pandemic hit, companies had no choice but to follow government guidelines and allow employees to work from home.

For some, this required an investment in enterprise software, whether that was video conferencing, business communication platforms or project management tools, not to mention the additional cost of hardware such as monitors, desks and laptops for home-based staff. Having already spent money on this area, and if employees seem to be embracing remote working with no impact on business efficiency, some firms will be reluctant to go back to the old days, especially as most are reporting the same if not better levels of productivity.

In the Loeb Leadership survey, 98% of respondents said that home working had been at least a moderate success, with 77% saying it was ‘highly successful’. This shows that many law firms do have the ability to adjust quickly, and that day-to-day work and clients relationships will not suffer.

“It’s a complex issue,” says David. “We may start to see that those willing to be in the office fulltime have advantages when it comes to building relationship with senior staff, something that could potentially advance their career and may have been more difficult on a video call. Those that are seen to ‘fit in’ with the firm’s office working stance could be given preferential treatment. On the other hand, if an employer doesn’t fit with your professional requirements, and doesn’t approve your request to work from home, there’s a company out there that will.”

Can we help you find the next member of your legal team? Get in touch with David and the Search Legal team to discuss your recruitment options.

If you’re a candidate looking for your next legal opportunity, we can help support you through the transition. Speak to an expert about your professional requirements today.

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