The Generational Divide

Staffing in the new environment

The Generational Divide

♫ You can’t get the genie
back in the bottle...

— Music and Lyrics by Don Henley

There is a great divide among lawyers today. Law firms are trying to stuff the remote work genie back in the bottle by demanding that lawyers return to the office. Law firms are facing a pushback — from partners and associates alike — bucking the return to the office mandate. Fact is, according to a survey by Major, Lindsey & Africa who received responses from 1,800 partners, over two thirds want the option to work remotely.

The more junior the partner, the greater the importance of working remotely is to them. 16% of partners who have been partners for one to five years would quit over remote work restrictions. It is only 7% for those partners in the 20+ year category.

This is backed up by the “Where Does the Legal Profession Go From Here? report by the American Bar Association that found that 44% of lawyers with 10 years or less experience would change firms to one that offered more freedom on work arrangements. Only 13% of those with 41 years of experience would leave their firm (query if other factors such as reluctance to start anew with a firm at an older age is a stronger motivation to hold onto their present firm).

I don’t believe that the data in Canadian firms would be much different since Canada appeared to have an even stronger buy-in on working remotely.

What does this push-back against management’s return to work policies indicate? I believe this shows that lawyers — associates and partners alike — have tasted the forbidden flesh of the benefits of working remotely. They have experienced no lost commuting time. They can juggle family commitments and work commitments better. They can rearrange work hours to suit their lifestyle. Child and elderly care are certainly accommodated better than in a return to the office environment. Indeed, they have asked — and answered — the question of whether they need to be chained to the office to maintain their billable hours and income. Zoom and Microsoft Teams have made client and office meetings virtually frictionless. The younger generation are willing to vote with their feet when the senior partners demand a back-to-the-office policy.

Hybrid work arrangements are becoming the norm, with lawyers in the office 2-3 days a week. Partners are standing up against more restrictive policies. Firms, who are facing competitive hiring environments, will have found that their recruitment policies may have to change to accommodate the new environment.

What of the argument that firm culture and training is lost? Lawyers are stating that perhaps training was not happening as well or as often as senior partners made out. Targeted training with specific allocated times are becoming the norm and are a better use of everyone’s time. Culture should also be built on targeted activities rather than simple attendance at an office.

Furthermore, do firms wish to risk losing their best talent at a time when demand for lawyers is bouncing back? Firms have found that the balance of power has shifted…and that you can’t get the genie back in the bottle.

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