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Can Lawyers Work From Home…Really?

Objection – asked and answered. And yet this question continues to pop up. We talk about it with prospective client firms often. “Yeah, GrowPath enables remote work, but does that really make sense for a lawyer?”

While the ultimate decision is the firm’s, the American Bar Association has some data that we think should be considered. And a final answer to the question. Can an effective lawyer work from home? Absolutely yes – if you have what it takes.

Do Lawyers Even Want to Work From Home?

Logically, being able to do something doesn’t necessarily equate to the desire to do that thing. You may be able to paint your entire house and not want to go through the trouble. Working from home is a capability, but do lawyers really want it?

According to data from the American Bar Association, the answer is a firm yes. ABA surveys have shown that most lawyers prefer to work remotely at least some of the time, with a flexible schedule being by far the most preferable. What’s more, younger lawyers tend to desire it far more than those who’ve been in practice for a long time. Women are also more likely to prefer the option to work from home.

Furthermore, 66% of female lawyers and 50% of lawyers of color said that the option or ability to work remotely was a “very” or “extremely” important consideration in a job change.

About 44% of lawyers would leave their current positions for one that allowed them to work remotely. Firms that don’t offer it are much less likely to be considered by a large portion of the talent pool.

How Can Lawyers Work Remotely: Tips for the Remote Law Firm

Obviously, there are a few situations when being remote isn’t going to cut it; a jury trial, for an obvious example. Sometimes you just have to be there. However, understanding the rarity of the true necessity of presence, there’s really no reason your lawyers and staff can’t work remotely some or most of the time.

There aren’t many secrets at this point, but there are plenty of firms that are new to the idea of remote work or are still in the early stages. They’re learning new processes, routines, and probably a few hard lessons. Here are a few tips we’ve picked up.

  1. Manage Transparently – The surveys by the ABA tell of a permissive work environment at some firms and a strict environment at others. The fact of the matter is that lawyers are like many other workers – they may be suspicious of freedom. Is it a trap? Is working remotely going to harm their career trajectory? Make things clear from the top down.
  2. Upgrade Tools and Tech – No remote law firm succeeds with phone calls and paper. Even some case management tools aren’t robust enough to support working from home. Upgrade your case management system to something that is collaborative, secure, feature-rich, and designed to help lawyers and staff work efficiently from anywhere (like GrowPath).
  3. Set Expectations – If your lawyers are putting in 50 hours a week, should they get more, less, or the same amount of work done from home? Realistically speaking, working from home can help with work-life balance, mental health, and engagement. Amazing what the lack of a commute can do.
  4. Be Flexible – Some lawyers want to be in the office. Some actually need to be in the office to be effective. Working from home may not be for everyone. And while about 30% of the ABA surveyed lawyers are working remote most or all of the time, 30% are in the office full time with the rest working a hybrid or flex schedule.
  5. Insist on Collaboration – Culture is important. Preserving firm culture in a remote workplace environment has its challenges. Make sure your layers and staff are meeting each other face-to-face. The human social element matters.
  6. Listen to Clients – Some clients prefer to meet their attorneys in the law firm’s office. Some don’t care at all. Make sure you’re listening to them as well. Ideally, you’ll be able to accommodate client and lawyer preferences, and have the best of both worlds.

Is It Ethical for Lawyers to Practice Law in a Location Where They Are Not Licensed?

So your firm has found a rock star, but they live across the state line and aren’t licensed in that state? Or maybe your current staff’s rock star wants to move closer to family – out of state. Is this a problem from a bar position?

 The ABA opinion on this subject cites a Utah Ethics Opinion which states: “What interest does the Utah State Bar have in regulating an out-of-state lawyer’s practice for out-of-state clients simply because he has a private home in Utah? And the answer is…none.”

How Can Lawyers Work Remotely: Tips for the Remote Lawyer

Working from home seems like a huge advantage to many lawyers – and it often is. That doesn’t mean it won’t be challenging. Working from home comes with distractions that only generally happen at home. Kids, neighbors, spouses, pets, and the temptation to do “home” things are all very real.

  1. Log In Locked In – For some, at least to start, mindset is the hardest thing. Get up, dress, and prepare as you always would. Walk into your home office area, log in for work, and behave just as you would in the actual office. This approach capitalizes on your existing routine and discipline to keep your mind focused. Once you put on the “uniform,” you’re not mom or dad. You’re working.
  2. Be Responsive – When you’re working remotely, communication suffers the most. You may have a habit of ignoring emails when you’re in the actual office. People can always stop by and talk. At home, that’s not an option. Keep an eye on emails, messages, and calls. Don’t ghost your coworkers accidentally.
  3. Be Predictable – Having a flexible schedule is a wonderful benefit, but it can easily cause chaos among the people who rely on you. Try to maintain a set schedule at least in part so that people know you’ll be working and available if needed. Logging in and out randomly can make life miserable for your teammates.
  4. Maintain Productivity – If you really like working remotely, you have to show that it doesn’t affect your ability to get work done. Some of our clients have seen productivity increase in their remote staff. If you slack off at home, expect the firm to insist you work on-site. And could you blame them?
  5. Use Your Tools – It probably seems obvious, but a lot of remote lawyers aren’t taking advantage of all of the tools they have available – tools that could save them time and headaches. Get to know your software. If it’s customizable like GrowPath, take the time to tweak it to your style of work. The technology that helps you work from home can help you work smarter as well.

Working Remotely or Remotely Working?

This should also go without saying, but firm managers should have or obtain tools that enable them to monitor remote workers’ activity. Who’s logged in and for how long? What are they doing? How are they using their time?

You will absolutely benefit from productivity tools, like those in GrowPath, to make sure you know who is doing the work, who is overworked, and who’s just plain not working. Reward your rock stars. Remove your rocks.

Need More Remote Work Capability for Your Firm?

GrowPath clients were some of the fastest to transition to remote work when the pandemic hit – without missing a beat. One large firm went almost entirely remote in a weekend – and has continued offering the option ever since (and kept growing).

We have all of the tools you need. Want to put “remote work” on your firm’s benefit list, and draw more talent? Schedule a demo and we can show you how it can work for you.

November 14, 2023