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Joint Survey From MLA and Law360 Pulse Finds Significant Disparities Between Baby Boomers and Millennials’ Views About Returning To The Office

Hanover, MD – May 18, 2021 – As the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations increases across the U.S. and more workplaces reopen, Baby Boomer and millennial attorneys expressed diametrically opposing attitudes with regard to their eagerness to return to the office, according to the Return to Office Survey recently released by Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA), the world’s largest legal search firm, and Law360 Pulse. While 51% of boomers said they were eager or very eager to get back to the office, just 22% of millennials said the same. Additionally, across all age groups, the largest group of respondents – at 45% - indicated they would like to settle into a routine of going into the office a few times per week, while 15% hoped to only return a few times a month or less. The Return to Office Survey was conducted in March 2021 and surveyed 2,505 respondents.

When comparing Baby Boomers and Gen X (those born between 1965-1980) to millennial attorneys, the survey also found divergent attitudes on the issue of return to work. Boomers and Gen X’ers were seven percentage points more likely to want to return to the office as soon as possible compared to millennials. This disparity was also stark between associates and partners: 28% of partners were “very eager” to return to the office compared to 9% of associates who said the same. Additionally, 27% of partners said they want to go back to the office every day after the pandemic subsides, compared to just 7% of associates.

“Our survey has highlighted the divergent views and priorities between partners and associates on the issue of return to work. As firms develop their return-to-work policies, it will be vitally important to strike a balance in addressing the needs of both groups,” said Stephanie Biderman, a Partner in MLA’s Associate Practice Group and a co-author of the survey. “During the pandemic, many associates have managed an incredibly heavy workload, along with additional domestic responsibilities like childcare. Flexibility will be key as firms look to fulfill many partners’ desire for more face time, while also creating a comfortable work environment and a sustainable work-life balance for associates.”

Other highlights of the survey included:

  • Men were more eager than women to get back to their desks. As women continue to grapple with the outsized impact of the pandemic on their careersand personal lives, just 15% said they were very eager to return to the office once they felt it was safe, compared to 29% of men. Additionally, men were more likely to report than women that the pandemic had a negative impact on the mentorship and training opportunities available to them, while women reported a greater negative impact on their mental well-being and work-life balance.
  • Eagerness to return to the office varied by city. Of the four cities with the greatest number of survey respondents, Los Angeles-based attorneys were most likely to want to return swiftly to the office (at 20%), and were also the most willing to return after getting vaccinated (at 57%). Meanwhile, both at 4%, New York and Los Angeles had the highest rate of attorneys who never want to return to the office.
  • Gen X and millennials struggled the most with mental health during the pandemic. Both age brackets had the highest percentage (24%) of attorneys who said their mental health had become “much worse” amid COVID.
  • Boomers were particularly concerned about client retention amid remote work. Even as many firms struggle to hire associates quickly enough to meet client demand, nearly a third of boomers reported that client retention is much worse or somewhat worse since the pandemic set in and their teams began working from home.

“Our survey demonstrated the complexities surrounding the issue of returning to the office for many attorneys,” said Stacey Breen, a Managing Director in MLA’s Partner Practice Group and a survey co-author. “Though most attorneys indicated their desire for remote flexibility post-pandemic, it’s clear there are lingering concerns about the impact of teleworking on lawyers’ mental health, as well as client relationships, business development, and mentorship/training opportunities. In order to retain and attract top talent through this period, firms will need to create programs that meet the varying needs of attorneys across age groups, gender, and geographies.”

The full text of the Return to Office Survey is available here.

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