Melissa Davies has seen both sides: the rigors of working a hectic schedule on location for Shelton-based Ruane Attorneys at Law, and a lighter-paced workload when she telecommutes from her home in Syracuse.
And like a growing number of lawyers across the country, she’s chosen the latter.
Davies worked 15 months in Connecticut for Ruane before deciding, for family reasons, to telecommute from her upstate New York home base in 2015. The difference, she said, is like night and day.
“You are simply juggling more things when you work out of the office,” she said, noting that on a typical day, she’d go straight from home to court. “I’d drive again to the office, check some emails and go over whatever cases were going on later in the day. … I’d be running everywhere. If I was in the office, I’d go to jail to visit clients, if I did not have a … hearing. Now, I run around much less.”
Now Davies does less driving, focusing instead on post-conviction work and personal injury cases.
She is far from alone.
Telecommuting is on the rise. Law firms are more willing to allow it, and attorneys are increasingly insistent on working remotely, according to Megan Szczesny, regional manager covering Connecticut and Rhode Island for global human resource consulting firm Robert Half.
A 2018 study by Robert Half found 77 percent of respondents said the ability to telecommute would increase their likelihood of taking a job. And it wasn’t just among millennials, widely credited with reshaping workplace norms. In law firms, the American Bar Association Journal reported the trend has been toward flexible work policies that boost morale, engender loyalty, contribute to client satisfaction and aide the bottom line.
“We are seeing an uptick in telecommuting generally,” Szczesny said Wednesday. “Companies are doing it to keep employees happy, which helps with retention. It’s allowing that work-life balance.”
“I am able to meet my clients’ demands any hour of the day,” said Twilley, who says working from home also affords him the opportunity to drop off and pick up his young son on school days.
Twilley believes certain legal specialties work better for telecommuters. As an attorney handling patent prosecutions, he meets clients over the phone and via video chat, is able to prepare patent applications, have electronic reviews and file online.
“If I was a criminal law attorney, I don’t think I [could] do this,” he said.
‘We Enticed Her to Stay’
At Shipman & Goodwin, one of Connecticut’s largest and most influential law firms, telecommuting has become an integral part of business for the 180-attorney operation with six offices. Two of its attorneys have “pretty significant telecommuting arrangements” and about 20 others periodically work from home, said chief talent officer Christina Hermann.
“It’s really essential at this point,” Hermann said.
At least twice, Shipman & Goodwin used telecommuting to retain or attract key employees. In one case, after a yearlong search for a new chief marketing officer, the perfect candidate, a marketer/attorney, did not want to leave his home base of Boston. The firm accommodated him. It did the same thing to retain important talent, by convincing an associate to stay with the firm after relocating from Stamford to Florida, where it has no offices.
“We enticed her to stay with the firm and to telecommute,” Hermann said.
But for all its growing appeal, telecommuting presents unique challenges, such as maintaining sacrosanct lawyer-client privilege and protecting sensitive files and data through powerful firewalls and proprietary servers extended to remote workstations.
“You just can’t allow telecommuting if you do not have technology and security set up to protect … client information,” Hermann said.
Plus, Ruane Attorneys’ Davies concedes there are other drawbacks and, a big one, she said, is advancement and caseload.
“I feel like I’d have a bigger caseload if I worked in the office,” Davies said. “I do believe it’s easier to advance in your job if you go into the office. Career advancement is just much easier when [you're] in the office.”
Still, for where she is now in her life, Davies said working from home is a good fit for her. “I don’t think telecommuting is for everyone as some people need to go to work everyday to be productive. I can be productive in my home. Other than when my daughter is in distress, I do not have any distractions in my home office.”
Another area raising concern: How will mentorships fare if younger employees hardly come to the office? Those who work from home say these relationships flourish.
Mike Fitzpatrick is one of Davies’ mentors at Ruane Attorneys.
“He is available to me whenever I need him,” Davies said. “Of course, I would see him more in the office, but he returns my calls right away. I do not feel like I am really missing out on that relationship.”
Telecommuting has not interfered with the mentorship of Ron Houde Jr., who works for the Kalon Law Firm, a small outfit with a physical address in Hartford but staff working remotely. Houde’s mentor is Christopher Kriesen, the law firm’s founder and principal.
“We had an established mentor/mentee relationship before I telecommuted,” Houde said. “There was a good understanding of my work habits and capabilities, and an underlying of trust between us. Today, we use all of our communication efforts to get in touch with each other when we need to collaborate or when I need guidance.”
The arrangement has helped Houde’s productivity.
“I am cutting down on unnecessary commuting time and I am able to address almost any issue at any time of the day,” he said. “Working in an office would not allow me to do what I do to the same extent. Most people end their day at 5 p.m. and they are disconnected until the next day. My day does not end at 5 p.m., unless I want it to.”
Longtime attorney and mentor Mark Dubois agrees. He divides his time between Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he usually spends May through early October, and the New London offices of Geraghty & Bonnano. But Dubois, an attorney for 41 years who currently specializes in defending lawyers accused of ethics violations, is also a mentor to John Friedler, an associate in the firm. While Dubois said Friedler “can pop his head in my office” when he works in New London, he echoed Davies in saying he and the young lawyer talk constantly via phone, text, email and other avenues.
Dubois said he misses the attorneys and support staff from his firm, but called telecommuting “liberating for lawyers.”
“I truly believe you can be more responsive to your client’s needs by telecommuting,” he said. “My office is me. If a client has a question, I can pull out my laptop and log on and look up what I need. There is instant turnaround.”