This past weekend, I ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon with three of my brothers. The event was awesome, and it was great to run through 13.1 miles of the “old country” of Brooklyn where my grandparents lived before crossing the river to New Jersey. Saturday was also the hottest day we have had in New York City so far this year, reminding me that summer is right around the corner. That made me think of what it was like to work at some of the shops I was employed by before I started my own practice several years ago. Many law firms have rituals during the warmer months since numerous shops welcome summer classes, participate in softball leagues, and hold other events during the summer. I also remembered that a firm I used to work at had a “summer hours” policy and wondered if this is still a common practice across the legal industry.
I am sure that different firms have varying definitions of what the notion of summer hours comprises. At the firm I worked at that observed summer hours, it basically meant that if you did not have anything pressing in the office on Friday, you could leave work sometime in the middle of the afternoon. At the shop I worked at that had summer hours, sometimes the attorneys would take late long lunches on Friday and then just head home. I know for a fact that law firms are not the only employers that ever had a summer hours policy, since my brother worked at a financial company that also allowed employees to take shorter days in the summer.
There are a number of benefits to summer hours. For one, it makes it much easier for people to head out of town if they can leave the office a little early on Friday. The office I worked at which had a summer hours policy was in New Jersey, and many of the partners, associates, and staff would go DTS (“down the shore” for people who never saw “Jersey Shore”) many weekends, and it was much easier to beat traffic and head out earlier in the day on Friday than after business hours.
Even if people did not have explicit out-of-town plans over the weekend, it was still nice for individuals to have an early start to their time off. With a half day on Fridays, people could enjoy the weather a little more while the sun was up. Moreover, letting people out a little early usually meant that individuals had to sit in less traffic on their way home, which maximized the amount of time that they could spend with family and friends.
The only time I worked at a firm with summer hours was at a law firm early in my legal career, which was about a decade ago. After that point, I never worked at a law firm that had summer hours (although, since I started my own practice over three years ago, I guess I can implement the policy at my current shop!) Most of the firms I worked at would only let people out of the office a little early during Fridays in the summer if it was a Memorial Day, Fourth of July, or Labor Day weekend. Otherwise, bosses generally expected people to be at their desks the same hours over the summer as they were to be at their desks during any other time in their careers.
As law firms require associates and staff to return to offices again after working remotely during much of the COVID-19 pandemic, more shops should consider implementing summer hours. Policies like summer hours show that law firms care about their employees and do not stick to rigid time requirements just for the sake of having expectations and keeping people in offices. This could help lawyers and staff transition back into office routines if they know that at least on the day they most need flexibility in the summer, they will be afforded some fluidity by their managers.
Moreover, there really isn’t a need to stick to strict requirements about how much time people should be in an office. If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught the legal industry anything, it is that lawyers can be just as productive remotely as in the office, and lawyers can make judgments about tasks they can perform remotely and tasks for which they need to be in the office. Of course, sometimes, lawyers need to be in offices on Friday afternoons in order to complete filings, meet with clients, or for other purposes. However, lawyers and staff can be expected to meet client and firm expectations even if they have a little flexibility on Fridays.
In any event, law firms should consider reinstituting summer hours if such policies have been rejected in recent years, and more shops should consider implementing summer hours even if they never did before. Allowing attorneys and staff to leave early on Fridays can help promote work-life balance and will likely result in few negative consequences to a firm or its clients.
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 email@example.com.