“By the way, you know, when, when you’re telling these little stories, here’s a good idea. Have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!”

Neal Page (played by Steve Martin) in the 1987 movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

 

Clio’s Legal Trends Report came out this week at Clio’s annual conference. One of the key findings is that lawyers and legal professionals don’t want to return to the office like they used to. I know. It’s those lazy younger workers who want to drink coffee and sit around in their pajamas at home and not work. I mean, who wouldn’t want to commute an hour each way to get to an office to do the same thing  they do at home. And be berated by a senior partner for being so uncommitted.

 

But the numbers from the Clio study and a recent ABA survey (more about both later) don’t lie. According to Clio, 49% of the lawyers surveyed preferred to work from home. A key reason the 1 in 5 lawyers Clio surveyed who changed jobs in the last year: they want a better work life balance. A balance that remote work and being able to work at the most convenient time provides. As Josh Lenon, Lawyer in Residence at Clio, and Rio Peterson, Clio Senior Affinity Partnerships Manager, said yesterday in an depth dive into the Survey results: law firms are becoming less a location and more a state of mind.

 

But you always get the contrary argument, mainly by partners who relish being in the office all the time and expect everyone else to love it too. The argument goes like this: we can’t instill our “firm Culture” (whatever that is) without having our younger lawyers in the office all the time. (The firm culture argument reminds me of something one of my friends one time: “I hate when people talk about dysfunctional families. I have seen lots of families but haven’t seen a functional one yet.” I hear a lot about great firm culture but have yet to actually see it.)

 

The other argument for getting butts back in the seat at the office: we can’t train our associates without them actually being in the office. Right. But as I have discussed before, most law firm training programs are catch as catch can. Partners often become mentors who “train” associates by chance: you get a good mentor/partner you get well trained. You get a bad one? You probably are headed for a bad annual review and, ultimately, a quick exit. And this informal training regime often results in partners/mentors picking mentees that look and act like them. I.e., white males with backgrounds and values similar to the partner.

 

So what’s a forward facing law firm to do with this culture clash between younger talent who wants remote work and older partners, who are often rainmakers, demand? Josh Lenon was asked this very question at the tail end of his presentation: how do you build culture in the hybrid environment?

 

Embrace hybrid. Use the in person time in the office to build your culture and train. Allow people to work remotely to get work done

 

As usual, Lenon offered an insightful solution. Says Lenon: embrace hybrid. Use the in person time in the office to build your culture and train. Allow people to work remotely to get work done.

 

Lenon’s hybrid is a simple but elegant solution. Most people who like to work remotely don’t necessarily mind going to the office when there is a reason to do so. They want to embrace and learn the firm’s culture. They want training. But if you are required to go to the office, as I said above, just to do the same thing you could have done at home, forget it. That’s a recipe for unhappiness and dissatisfaction, as I think the Clio and ABA Surveys evidence.

 

I chatted with Lenon after the session about the clash in law firms over remote work. He agreed that part of the problem is caused by blanket requirements that lawyers be in the office on certain days. Lenon pointed out that these mandates are often issued without any thought to what lawyers will do when they get there—other than do their work or have zoom calls. Which, of course, they could do from home. Lenon thinks that if you mandate a return to the office on certain days, you better have a schedule of activities on those days to make being in the office worthwhile. Like a review of cases, the team is handling. Or reviewing billing entries for consistency.

 

Lenon also believes that law schools should better train lawyers to be lawyers so law firms don’t have to. If law schools provide rudimentary experience related training, then law firms could spend their time training young lawyers on how the particular firm does things.On what the culture of the firm expects from them. Good point.

 

Make sure when you make people come to the office, there’s a reason and purpose

 

Bottom line, if you want to bridge the gap between what your lawyers want and what you think has to be done in the office, make sure when you make people come to the office, there’s a reason and purpose. Want to build culture, have people in the office to talk about the culture. Have partners define the culture they have or, better yet, want. Want to train associates? Have sound training programs. Make sure everyone has the same training opportunity. Don’t rely on water cooler conversations when you demand associates bill 2400 hours a year.

 

If you make them come to the office, have a point.