15 Aug 2022

Freshfields ups office days for UK lawyers

Magic Circle firm tells lawyers to be in the office at least three days per week having previously allowed 50% remote working

London, UK - April 19, 2018: Blurred image of office workers crossing the London bridge in early morning on the way to the City of London, the leading business and financial area in Europe. Rush hours

Shutterstock; IR Stone

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s UK fee earners are set to spend the majority of their working days in the office following a change in the firm’s agile working policy. 

The firm, which announced last year that its UK staff could work from home up to 50% of the time subject to client and business commitments, will expect its fee earners to be in the office for a minimum of three days per week from September. 

RollOnFriday, which first revealed the change, reported a source as saying the decision was made due to there being a lack of “buzz” around the office, with many staff opting to work from home.  

The change applies to partners, associates and trainees based out of the firm's London and Manchester offices. The policy, however, remains an interim one as the firm continues to monitor client expectations. 

The guidelines vary by team within the firm’s business services arm depending on their working needs. 

Freshfields’ policy amendment marks the latest instance of a law firm seeking the sweet spot between home and office working that enables employees to benefit from the flexibility of remote work without harming firm culture and client service.  

Most firms, including Freshfields’ Magic Circle rivals, have adopted a hybrid approach. Freshfields' change brings it into line with Allen & Overy and Slaughter and May, which also allow their staff to work from home up to 40% of the time, while Clifford Chance and Linklaters currently have a 50 - 50 split as their upper limit for remote working. 

Linklaters’ Italy managing partner, Andrea Arosio, said when the firm announced its agile work policy back in 2020 that the pandemic had shown “we can deliver high-quality work while working remotely", but that remote work had also “reinforced the huge benefits we and our clients obtain from face to face interaction and the value of our offices as hubs of teamwork and learning". 

A survey by the American Bar Association that questioned young lawyers’ attitude to remote work found that the flexibility it offers was seen as a huge benefit across the board, as was the time saved through not commuting. Lawyers with young children also noted the benefit of extra time with family and the potential for remote work to keep mothers in the workforce. 

Not everyone agrees that home working translates to greater productivity, though. In July last year, John Zavitsanos, co-founder and managing partner of US firm Ahmad Zavitsanos Anaipakos Alavi & Mensing, wrote in the New York Times his lawyers and staff ‘never matched the team creativity and production we had taken for granted at our office’ after they started working from home during the pandemic. 

His comments came at the same time that Morgan Stanley’s chief legal officer, Eric Grossman, hit the headlines after warning that law firms that maintained remote working practices instead of returning to the office would be at a disadvantage.

 

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