Above the Law

Another Biglaw Firm Jumps On The Telecommuting Bandwagon

By David Lat

March 17, 2017

Back in 2007, we wrote about a growing trend in law firms favoring “greater flexibility in work schedules and environments, including telecommuting.” At the same time, we noted a bit of resistance to the trend in Biglaw, including some firms explicitly telling their associates to arrive in the office by a specific time each morning.

Fast forward a decade, and the resistance is fading. A number of firms, as an informal matter, permit – or at least don’t give associates a hard time over – telecommuting. And a few firms are going so far as to issue formal policies blessing the practice.

Last year, for example, Shearman & Sterling adopted a policy allowing associates to work from home two days a month. Writing in these pages, Kathryn Rubino praised the policy, noting that “two days a month isn’t going to radically alter anything, but it is a nice step forward.”

And now another firm has upped the ante. As reported by Law360:

Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP on Tuesday announced a formal remote-working program for associates.

Under the initiative, which launches May 1, associates can opt to telecommute one or two days a week beginning in their third year. About 100 associates have signed up for the program since it was announced within the firm on Friday, said Morgan Lewis associate talent partner Amanda Smith.

Being allowed to work remotely at least one day a week is quite generous. It’s certainly in the interest of associates – but Morgan Lewis believes it’s in the firm’s interest as well. According to chair Jami McKeon, the policy will help Morgan Lewis attract the best talent.

The firm explored the policy on a trial basis before launching it firm-wide, and the results were positive:

A beta test of the remote-work program in the firm’s Los Angeles office revealed that participating associates actually became more engaged and client service was the same or better under the program; McKeon pointed out that when you cut out long commutes, associates are more available to clients.

Esther Ro, a Morgan Lewis litigation associate who participated in the Los Angeles beta test, said it was important that the transition to the work-from-home program was seamless for clients. Because of the firm’s tech support, clients who call an associate’s office, for example, wouldn’t even know the associate wasn’t there, Ro said.

That’s an important point. Technology is a key component of working remotely, so firms that go down this path need to support telecommuting with tech. (Here are some tips on how to work effectively from home, courtesy of technology columnist Jeff Bennion.)

The new policy has the added advantage of promoting diversity as well:

Although it wasn’t an initial aim of the program, McKeon pointed out that the focus on facetime adversely affects women, people with families and other underrepresented groups. McKeon and Smith raised a total of seven kids, McKeon said, and they love that technology has evolved to the point where facetime is no longer the necessity it once was for law firms.

Congratulations to Morgan Lewis associates on the newfound flexibility. Will other firms follow suit?

David Lat is the founder and managing editor of Above the Law and the author of Supreme Ambitions: A Novel.


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