I recently noticed a trend when I was driving around my area in the late afternoon. In years past, the typical rush hour occurred around 5 p.m. — when workdays traditionally ended. Of course, many lawyers and other professionals routinely work past this time, but other people often quit for the day around 5 p.m., causing traffic issues. However, in the past year or so, I’ve been noticing that the rush hour typically starts an hour or more earlier than it previously did. This got me thinking: are people flying the coup from offices earlier than they did in the past?
We all know that attorneys and staff can be just as efficient (or more so) from home than in an office. When someone works from home, they do not need to commute. Moreover, when people work from home, they can complete tasks at their own pace throughout the day rather than cram it into a set period. Working from home also allows people to complete personal tasks easier, which can have a positive impact on morale and efficiency.
However, many law firms are now requiring attorneys to come to an office at least a set number of days a week. Some traditionalists talk about the elusive benefits of in-person work to bolster this requirement, even though people collaborate fine through a variety of virtual means. Moreover, some law firm managers cannot stomach the fact that they signed expensive multiyear leases for offices that would be vacant if people were allowed to work almost exclusively from home.
However, working in an office is not the same for some workers as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Granted, I am self-employed, and I have not worked as an associate attorney at another law firm since 2019. As a result, I do not have firsthand knowledge of what many associates are thinking when they contend with office work policies. However, I have a number of friends who are associates and partners at various law firms, and they tell me that in many instances, office work policies do not necessarily lead to attorneys being in offices for as long as they once were.
Some attorneys now view working from an office a mandated amount of days per week as a box that they need to check off. In order to do so, at many firms, attorneys simply need to show their face at an office a set number of days per week and there are not strict expectations on when they need to be at the office or when they need to leave the office. Accordingly, many of my friends tell me that people are more likely to come to offices later and leave offices earlier in the post-COVID era than before the pandemic. Moreover, attorneys might be more likely to leave an office to fulfill a personal responsibility and then either return to the office or just head home depending on the time of day. Some of my friends tell me that they are more efficient working from home anyway, so they want to just check off an expectation of managers and then return home where they can churn out billable hours in earnest.
This type of behavior just exposes how ridiculous it is if firms require lawyers to be at offices most of the week. I have not heard about expectations concerning when associates need to arrive at and leave an office, and of course, this would be unusual. Law firms can trust associates to use their discretion about when they will arrive at an office and when they will leave, so often there is no requirement about working hours. However, if associates then are just coming to offices and spending as little time as possible in an office while checking the box that they made it to the office in the first place, what is the point of coming to an office at all?
I would love to hear from associates and partners to see if associates are spending less time in an office per day than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic. And if associates are not really spending as much time in offices and are just showing their faces to fulfill expectations of them, it really undermines the alleged reasons for requiring people to work from an office a set number of days each week.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.