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There has been a lot of talk about how law firms are re-evaluating their need for office space. While it is anticipated that law firms will begin to downsize, many lawyers are not eager to begin working from home full-time, according to a new survey by Gensler.
According to the survey, only 10% of attorneys want to work from home full-time. A significant majority (74%) said they wanted to work from the office most days of the week. Of those who wanted a more flexible work schedule, most wanted to work from home only one or two days per week.
This is in line with how many law firms are approaching the issue. For example, Faegre Drinker recently told Westlaw Today that while they anticipate reducing office space and having some associates work from home full-time, they still expect to rely heavily on in-office meetings and collaboration, in addition to space needed to host clients.
The reason most lawyers want to go back to the office is probably not surprising. According to the survey, lawyers miss impromptu meetings and interactions with colleagues the most. It is a lot easier to swing by a colleague's office to chat than to set something up on video conference.
While mentoring and supporting newer associates has been a worry of law firms during the pandemic, only 25% of respondents in this survey said that mentoring was the primary motivation for wanting to return to the office.
While younger generations may have grown up using social media and online communication, they were also the ones least likely to want to work from home full-time. Millenial and Gen Z lawyers reported getting less work done at home. This is likely due to home environments that make it more difficult to focus on work. Having younger kids, for example, can make it more difficult to get work done without distractions.
Despite most lawyers wanting to return to the office, a new normal is likely to emerge post-pandemic. Law firms are anticipating changes even once the pandemic abates. Law firms will most likely encourage working from home for some associates and reduce travel, as just a few examples.
However, going to a virtual office is not likely to be met with enthusiasm by either associates or firm leaders, and it is unclear how many law firms would be willing to take such a dramatic step. The pandemic is indeed looking like it will reshape work environments permanently. However, it may not be as dramatic a reshaping as it first appeared.