The end of the office?

Working from home

Karen Knapp
Published: 15 Sept 2020 Updated: 13 Apr 2023

Most law firms hadn't worked from home on a grand scale before, until the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus presented a major challenge. Most have worked quickly and successfully to adjust their working practices and systems to accommodate this new reality. The IT infrastructure has proved supportive, allowing most law firms to  continue working remotely with a semblance of business as usual.

Admittedly, some have embraced remote working more readily than others, whereas some have struggled to get to grips with Zoom, Microsoft Teams and remote meetings. Unsurprisingly, this latter group are the keenest to get back to the office, one on one meetings and the way they have always done business. For them, office re-openings – which have become more frequent since the start of August – have been a relief.

Equally, while most firms have been well-organised from a technology point of view, the outbreak has exposed those businesses that are still largely paper-based. Firms that don’t have mechanisms to share files remotely, for example, have really struggled. This has shown the importance of investing in technology infrastructure and this may widen the gap between the technology haves and have-nots.

What will happen in the future? It seems unlikely that law firms will go back to working in the office on a full-time basis, with many lawyers appreciating the renewed work-life balance that working from home has provided and will be reluctant to go back to business as usual.

That said, there is a risk that those training and developing their careers may miss out on having people around them on a full-time basis. Not only is remote mentoring a challenge, they won’t be able to observe how people talk on the phone and conduct themselves with clients. This indirect interaction is important to their long-term professional development. In the longer-term, we believe law firms will adopt a hybrid model. We see a future where lawyers are likely to go into the office perhaps three times a week and work from home for the remainder.

Finally, there is a question of costs. If more transacting is done online together with more meetings taking place online, do law firms need as much expensive office space? On the one hand, this may lower their costs but, on the other, clients may start to demand lower fees. No-one is saying it yet, but it may be an important consideration for the future.

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By necessity, this briefing can only provide a short overview and it is essential to seek professional advice before applying the contents of this article. This briefing does not constitute advice nor a recommendation relating to the acquisition or disposal of investments. No responsibility can be taken for any loss arising from action taken or refrained from on the basis of this publication. Details correct at time of writing.


This article was previously published on Smith & Williamson prior to the launch of Evelyn Partners.