Even as COVID-19 variants delay return-to-office dates, the vast majority of attorneys still hope to maintain a regular in-office presence
Hanover, MD – February 01, 2022 – As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to push back law firm office re-opening dates, and firms make adjustments to their remote work policies, 74% of attorneys say they want to come in at least once a week, according to the LawLife 2.0 Survey released by Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA), the world’s largest legal search firm, and Law360 Pulse. The LawLife 2.0 Survey is a follow-up to MLA’s Lawyer’s Perspective on Returning to the Office survey, also conducted jointly with Law360 Pulse in March 2021.
While the vast majority of attorneys reported wanting to spend at least some time in the office each week, the survey nonetheless found an overall decline in lawyers’ desire for in-person work, when compared to the results in March 2021. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they would like to go into to the office three to four days a week, down from 46% in March. Significantly, 27% are now content to head into the office just one to two days per month.
Additionally, in early January, MLA and Law360 surveyed over 1,230 lawyers on how the Omicron variant had impacted their sentiments on returning to the office. While 32% said Omicron has made them want to scale back their in-office time from what they initially expressed, 42% said the new variant has not affected their preference on ideal number of days in the office. However, a greater percentage of women (40%) versus men (28%) said they want to scale back their presence in the office as a result of Omicron.
These overarching sentiments may also be a result of attorneys feeling they no longer need to be in the office for the majority of the time to do their best work. Sixty-seven percent of respondents reported that the quality of attorney work product has remained consistent since the pandemic started. Notably, more participants thought productivity had improved, rather than declined, in the same time span.
“Our latest survey demonstrates that attorney sentiment toward return-to-office continue to evolve along with the pandemic itself,” said Stacey Breen, a Managing Director in MLA’s Partner Practice Group and a survey co-author. “Across the board, attorneys are looking to retain the flexibility they’ve found so valuable over the past 20 months. In fact, we may be seeing the generational gap on this issue start to close, with partners also reporting that they’re looking to work from home more often.”
Other highlights of the survey included:
Men are still more eager than women to resume more in-person work. While 51% of male respondents said they would like to go into the office three days per week or more, just 33% of women said the same. Additionally, women were 10% more likely than men to prefer an in-office schedule of just two days per month or less – indicating that women are still shouldering the majority of domestic and childcare burdens during the pandemic.
Attorney feel COVID-19 has adversely impacted mentorship and training. The majority of attorneys said they observed steep declines in both mentorship (67%) and training (58%). Partners were also 17% more likely than associates to have a negative view of the state of mentorship during the pandemic. Additionally, partners were 23% more likely than associates to feel that partner-associate interactions had taken a turn for the worse amid COVID.
However, firms are largely meeting attorneys’ needs in terms of flexible work arrangements. With the pandemic shifting many attorneys’ expectations around hybrid work for the long term, eighty-five percent of respondents reported that their firms’ return-to-office policy aligns at least somewhat with their own ideal work arrangement. However, women were 16% less likely than men to feel aligned with their firm’s return-to-office plans.
“Despite reporting some declines in office culture and internal communications, both partners and associates see value in remote working and would like to continue working from home more often than not,” said Stephanie Biderman, a Partner in MLA’s Associate Practice Group and a co-author of the survey. “These results suggest a growing acceptance of the changing role of the office in the wake of unprecedented circumstances. In order to retain and attract top talent, it is important that firms seek input from attorneys of all levels when crafting their flexible work policies.”The full text of the Lawlife 2.0 Survey is available here.
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