Some form of remote work and hybrid arrangements is here to stay. Law firms are not known for their flexibility, but after 18 months of working from our homes, it will be impossible for most to tell people they need to be back in the office five days a week.
Some won't ask people to return to the office at all and have hired permanently remote associates in states where they don't have offices.
Lawyers are, almost by definition, ambitious. For some people that means finding the best possible in-house job, but for many — 50 percent, according to the results of our 2021 Millennial Survey — it means partnership. If that is your goal and you're a remote associate, how do you best position yourself at your firm? How do you build the political capital and business case required to be a viable partner candidate down the line?
Here are a few tips for advancing internally as a fully or mostly remote associate:
Be proactive and make connections: A lot of what the firm lays out for you will feel formulaic and impersonal. Set up one-on-one time with everyone internally that you can — top to bottom — whether that's a 15-minute phone call or a virtual coffee chat. If you're in town to visit the office, do as much as you can in person. Be human in these interactions; don't just talk about work. This is time to bond, and time is of the essence.
Make your goals clear: You do not want to be an afterthought to the partners you work for so assert yourself, as appropriate, in deals/cases. Express curiosity about the track your partners took to get where they are. Ask them for guidance on how to become an indispensable member of the team from afar. Don't tread water just because you're remote.
Don't make the distance the firm's problem: While they should cover your travel to and from the office as needed, you need to make sure you're available in the time zone of the office you're working from without complaint. Be sure to attend not just the mandatory meetings in your office's time zone, but also the voluntary ones.
Participate in the extras of your practice — including committees, pro bono, hiring, and marketing: Until you've established yourself, be first in line to write the bulletin or interview potential candidates. Show you are a team player who wants to be involved in any way you can, despite the distance.
Turn on your video: The majority of your interactions with the firm will, of course, be virtual. While it can be tempting to have your video off for routine office meetings, turn it on so that people can put a face with a name. This can go a long way as you're trying to integrate. Beyond the get-to-know-you period, it's good to keep it on because video is revealing of who you are and how you react — and the more people can get to know you and buy-in to you, the better.
Reach out to other remote attorneys at the firm: While remote working is relatively new for many firms, some have had attorneys sitting remotely for years, or there may be remote attorneys who recently preceded your hire. Ask them for tips and how their experience has been going. It's a learning experience for all, so any information shared can be valuable. You may find a real kinship with other people sitting away from the office, and you can create an internal referral network of your own.
While it is important for attorneys to keep these tips in mind as they opt for a remote role, the equation is not one-sided. It is also incumbent upon firms to provide an environment to help these attorneys achieve success.
Here are a few ways firms can help these remote attorneys thrive in their roles:
Provide a travel budget as part of the offer: Knowing that resources are already allocated to help develop relationships will help encourage remote associates to stay connected and make the effort to engage with others at the firm.
Provide extra and clear communication during onboarding: The remote associate does not have the ability to stop by an office to learn who they should go to for what and when. Make sure there is a clear roadmap of who will be handling what aspect of the onboarding and when certain activities will take place. Provide clear details on who the associate should follow up with should questions arise. Make sure the associate is introduced not just to the people they need to know to do the job, but also to those involved in relevant affinity groups, alumni networks, adjoining practices, etc.
Conduct regular check-ins: It can be easy to assume that no news is good news if you haven't checked in with an associate in a while. Oftentimes the silence can mean they need help or feel disconnected. Regular check-ins from partners and others at the firm can help head off potential issues before they become larger.
Continue to provide a virtual component at group get-togethers: As more people head back to the office, be mindful of including the remote associates when possible. Maybe this is a regularly planned practice group lunch in the conference room with a video component, or perhaps this is organizing a lunch for groups of associates where a remote associate can join as well.
Everyone is navigating the remote waters together and learning as they go. Regular and clear communication is critical on both sides so that the arrangement can be successful for all involved. In a few years, we will probably see the first remote associates become remote partners. To get there, associates will need to fully embed themselves into their new firms — and firms will need to make that possible for them.