The pandemic forced many of us to rethink our working habits and remote work, in particular, surged in popularity – initially through necessity as lockdowns came into effect, but soon the workforce were fully embracing the newfound flexibility and efficiency remote working offered.


Once businesses started to venture back to their offices, they found many of their staff reluctant to revert to a pre-pandemic five-day office workweek, having seen that companies could function – and thrive – with a remote working model. So emerged the broad adoption of hybrid working, with even traditionally highly office-based law firms no exception to these profound changes.


Paradigm shift


While several firms, such as Newcastle’s Winn Solicitors, have now mandated a return to five days in the office, this is very much the exception in the UK legal landscape. Most firms are promoting a hybrid model of varying degrees of flexibility, from a strict three or four days a week in-office to models based on trust and employee ownership of their work and productivity.


Norton Rose Fulbright is one firm that recently emphasised its commitment to the latter. “When we look at that model in our region, we are firmly of the view that we shouldn’t try to put the genie back in the bottle,” their EMEA Chair Peter Scott said to The Lawyer in October. “We want our people to feel engaged and know that they’re trusted.”


Talent retention and attraction


Whether remote or hybrid, many legal professionals now view flexible working options as a fundamental part of an optimal work environment. Providing these options can be a powerful tool for attracting top talent in the legal sector – and not doing so runs the risk of being unable to compete against more flexible competitors for new talent, as well as losing existing senior team members.



Striking the right balance


Remote and hybrid working models have now become integral to the fabric of legal practice, offering both opportunities and challenges for lawyers and firms alike. As we reflect on the journey of the last three years, we look at some of the benefits and challenges of each model and assess their effectiveness in the legal sector.


Remote work advantages:


  • Flexibility: Remote work empowers legal professionals to structure their work environment and working habits to suit their individual needs. It enables a healthier work-life balance and can lead to increased job satisfaction.
  • Cost Savings: Firms can reduce overheads related to office space and utilities, potentially translating into cost savings. Combine this with AI-driven lower headcount requirements and it can be a significant factor.
  • Wider Talent Pool: Firms can tap into a global talent pool, allowing them to hire the best legal professionals for their team, regardless of location.


Remote work disadvantages:


  • Isolation: Extended periods of remote work can lead to feelings of isolation and detachment from the team.
  • Communication: Effective and quick communication, especially on complex legal matters or sensitive cases, can be more challenging in a remote setting.
  • Learning and Growth: The legal profession operates in part through an apprenticeship model, where junior lawyers hone their skills by learning from their senior colleagues. Remote work removes the benefit of in-office experience and may hamper the growth of junior team members.
  • Security Concerns: Remote work can pose cybersecurity risks that firms must address through robust processes and technology systems.


Hybrid work advantages:


  • Flexibility with Structure: Lawyers can enjoy the flexibility of remote work when needed, while also maintaining a structured presence in the office, working alongside and learning from other members of the team.
  • Improved Work-Life Balance: Hybrid work can provide a more balanced work-life dynamic, with opportunities for face-to-face collaboration, socialising and more delineation between home and work spaces.
  • Magnetising the Office: Firms can optimise office spaces for collaborative and client-focused activities, using them to complement employees’ home workspaces and draw teams to use them for suitable activities.


Hybrid work disadvantages:


  • Complex Logistics: Managing a hybrid workforce requires careful planning to ensure seamless operations. In order to take advantage of opportunities to work with other team members, in-office schedule overlap is needed, so careful timing is key.
  • Culture and Inclusion: Maintaining a cohesive organisational culture can be challenging when only segments of the wider team are present at a time. It is also important to ensure equitable opportunities to team members following different working patterns to each other.
  • Technology Integration: Successful hybrid models demand sophisticated technology integration to support seamless collaboration, which can be a significant investment.


Finding the sweet spot: a tailored approach


The legal sector’s journey into remote and hybrid work models has been transformative. Three years on, it’s clear that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to the most effective solution, but it is dependent on many factors, including the nature of the work, the firm’s culture, and individual preferences and needs.


As the industry continues to evolve, flexibility and adaptability will be key. Firms must continually assess and refine their working models to strike the perfect balance, ensuring that legal professionals can thrive while delivering the best outcomes and highest level of service for their clients.


If you have any roles you are looking to fill or want to discuss the current recruitment landscape and candidate expectations with a professional, our experienced team are always happy to help.

Article contacts