Only 27% of Manhattan lawyers are back in the office, study finds

Numbers expected to surge to 61% in January, according to The Partnership of New York
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Only 27% of lawyers in New York have started working from the office on weekdays, a new report has revealed. 

According to research published today by The Partnership of New York, the legal industry’s office attendance is on par with that of financial services employees (27%) and falls significantly short of office attendance for real estate employees, which reflected the highest rate of attendance at 77%. 

The research, based on the views of 188 major employees including around 20 law firms, showed around 28% of Manhattan office workers are in the office on an average weekday, with only 8% in the office five days a week. Just over half (54%) remain fully remote. Employers in the Big Apple anticipate these numbers to jump to 49% of workers coming back to the office by the end of January, with 57% working in the office five days a week. 

Manhattan law firms expect the percentage of employees working in the office to rise to 61% by the end of January, with the majority of surveyed firms citing the status of the Covid-19 pandemic as the largest factor contributing to a slower return to the office, followed by employee’s preference for remote work and challenges for employees with young children who may not be vaccinated. 

The research comes after a large crop of US firms opted to delay their formal return-to-office plans — some to as late as next February — in order to retool their approaches to vaccine mandates and hybrid working models after the contagious Delta variant grew teeth over the summer. 

Some New York firms, however, decided to stick to their guns by inviting their workforces back to the office this autumn, including Wall Street heavyweight Cravath Swaine & Moore. The firm recalibrated its plans to make for a ‘soft return’ to work, meaning it will encourage lawyers and staff to return to the office ‘at a cadence they feel comfortable with’ through year-end, rather than requiring people to come in for a mandated number of days. 

In addition to a vaccine mandate, Cravath is requiring masks to be worn in common areas and will continue to follow local guidelines on mask-wearing and other safety protocols as it phases its employees back into its premises. 

Cadawalder Wickersham & Taft also pushed ahead with its October return date for lawyers and staff after unveiling a vaccine mandate that would require all employees to be vaccinated in order to enter their premises. 

Law firms were notably not included in the Partnership's findings related to industries looking to majorly downsize their physical office spaces in New York. A recent report published by global property agent Savills showed New York’s law firm leasing volume increased by 94% from Q2 to Q3, fueled in part by Fried Frank’s 15-year lease extension of its 400,000 square-foot space at One New York Plaza in July. 


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