"That is why diversity numbers in the legal profession have not meaningfully changed in almost two decades," former Big Law attorney Esuga Abaya says. "The weapons being used are ineffective or insufficient."
'Be Careful What You Wish For': Why Remote Work Might Not Be a Long-Term Solution
Unless law firms figure out an elegant solution to billing clients that does not involve the billable hour a “get the job done” mentality cannot exist, almost by design, Zach Abramowitz notes in warning of the dangers of the industry moving remote.
I was recently a guest on the Modern Lawyer podcast hosted by Casetext VP of Business Development Anand Upadhye. In the course of our conversation, we discussed the very real possibility that, even after the economy reopens, Big Law will shift to a mostly remote workforce. I related the story that a person in senior management at an Am Law 200 firm told me recently that, even pre-pandemic, law firm offices functioned predominantly as a recruiting tool to attract the best attorneys. There was a time when law firms hosted clients regularly, but, as this person put it, “When do you ever see clients at law firms anymore?” I, for one, still believe in the value of a downtown skyscraper. A firm’s office gives clients the feeling that they are hiring an established trustworthy business, not some fly-by-night mom and pop shop. But the diminishing value of a ritzy ditzy downtown office is significant enough that it could create a groundswell of support to keep flexible work policies in place moving forward.
While we may see big law firms commit to remote work long term, to those heralding the advent of a remote working Big Law as some kind of cure-all to attorney quality of life, I say, “Be careful what you wish for.” A recent report from Deutsche Bank estimated the cost to companies of properly equipping just a single remote employee at around $12,600. The report further stresses that, for every study touting the efficiency of remote work and the harm of a long commute, there are a stack of studies showing that remote work succeeds only when very specific criteria are met including creating a dedicated workspace with complete privacy (that’s where the $12,600 starts to come in). The evidence also suggests that, after nine months, many remote workers ultimately choose to return to the office. To be sure, remote work pre- and post-COVID is not an apples to apples comparison, but we can at least say this much: remote work has not proven to be a sustainable long term solution.
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Diversity Lab CEO Caren Ulrich Stacy had worried that participation would drop as firms focused their attention on the economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis. But the result was quite the opposite.
Inherent problems with the career path for Big Law litigation associates make it a necessity for young lawyers to plan for their future earlier than their firms do.
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