If Above the Law wrote an article in 2019 that a Biglaw was telling its associates they only need to be in the office three days a week, then it would’ve been hailed as the ultimate perk. I mean who wouldn’t want to fire up the old VPN and avoid face time a few days a week?
But we all know what happened in 2020. COVID changed a lot of people’s expectations of the best way to get their job done. And now that we are finally, mercifully, largely out of the acute phase of the pandemic, reconciling the old way of doing things with the survival techniques of the last few years is the order of the day.
For the most part, Biglaw has settled into a hybrid work schedule, with most firms asking attorneys to come to the office two to three days a week. Well, it’s less of a request and more of a requirement — at least at Ropes & Gray. The firm got major kudos for a slow ramp up in their back-to-the-office plans. It’s been over a month since chair Julie Jones explained the firm’s expectation of three days in the office, preferably Tuesday through Thursday, for attorneys.
But it turns out, not everyone has been adhering to that schedule. As such, litigation co-chair John Bueker reached out to attorneys in that group who have not been coming around the office that much to let them know it’s no longer acceptable (full email on the next page):
I’m writing because our group’s response to Julie’s May 5 email continues to fall far short of where it needs to be. Now four weeks later, too many are still not coming into the office at least three days per week, consistent with the firm’s expectations. You are receiving this email because attendance records show you have not met the firm’s expectations in three of the four weeks since Julie sent her email. That has to change now.
As Julie underscored, in-person presence is critical to you and others at the firm in a number of respects. Expectations for success at Ropes & Gray include mentoring (mentoring others and being mentored), teaching, learning, and giving and receiving feedback. You are expected to be a part of, and to contribute to, the Ropes community in many ways beyond billing hours. Not all of them can be accomplished via Zoom or on the other end of a phone call. In-person interactions are necessary to your career development and advancement, and to the development of your younger colleagues. Those interactions foster the collaborative culture that we value, and they allow you to get to know your colleagues in a more meaningful way.
Bueker’s email also notes if there is a special circumstance preventing three days in the office, attorneys should reach out and discuss their concerns. But folks who just feel like they can do their job from home ergo they should be able to do their job from home are out of luck. And as summer associates who are eager to go to the office are now around, it’s easy to see why the hammer is dropping on the in-person attendance policy.
And Ropes is far from an outlier. Fully remote law firm jobs are not nearly as prevalent as they used to be. Plus the booming demand for associate talent is waning, with some industry vets warning of layoffs on the horizon. Perhaps now isn’t the time for associates to be pushy for a more generous hybrid work schedule.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).