Firms not encouraging the move
Working remotely may be gaining popularity — but many Law Times readers are reluctant to make the leap.
More than 53 per cent of readers surveyed said that being in the office is usually expected in most circumstances at their firm. The other 47 per cent said that at their office, telecommuting is encouraged when it makes sense.
Our readers’ firms may not be encouraging remote work, but nationwide, the trend is taking off, according to a survey of 150 full-time Canadian lawyers conducted by legal staffing and consulting firm Robert Half Legal. Seventy-four per cent of lawyers told Robert Half that more colleagues have worked remotely in the past year.
Alistair Vigier, CEO of ClearWay Law which has lawyers in Ontario and British Columbia, says that his firm’s remote work policy allows lawyers to focus on legal services while non-lawyers (like him) coordinate tasks like marketing, technology and accounting.
While the hardest part of the business model is finding “innovative lawyers willing to try something different,” Vigier says that in the long run, he thinks encouraging remote work improves retention.
“Flex working reduces the chances that an employee or lawyer will leave your firm as they have more freedom,” he says.
Remote work isn’t for everyone: A lawyer who wants the prestige of a corner office might not be a good fit, he says. When most lawyers in a firm are working remotely, as they do at ClearWay, it means that managing partners must trust their lawyers to communicate with them on files — which can be a challenge when you can’t poke your head into someone’s office, Vigier says. But Vigier, who was working from Paris, France at the time of the interview, also noted that modern technology allows communication to reach almost anywhere, even three stories underground in the Paris metro.
“With younger lawyers, millennial lawyers, they are not really that interested in that anymore — working extremely hard for 20 years or 30 years just to be able to get a corner office,” he says. “They want a better life faster …. And there are things you can do to still feel part of a team. We do team events where we all go out together. One of the major drawbacks of remote working is isolation.”
Lawyers at ClearWay still use services such as Regus to book private, discrete consultation rooms for initial meetings with clients, he says.
While the firm might eventually move to doing more consultations by video conference, even the more “innovative” lawyers in the firm prefer gradual change in that respect, he says. Still, for clients that live outside metropolitan areas, it can be more convenient to meet online, he says.
“Clients don’t have to drive across town — in a place like Toronto where it can be cold, there are parking costs. The whole point of remote working is to make it easier for the client to hire the firm,” he says, pointing technologies like DocuSign that allow exchange of documents. “As a client, if you’re dealing with a divorce or a criminal issue, it can be quite awkward to sit in a lobby — it can feel like a negative environment. Whereas, with Skype or Zoom or on the phone, someone can be in the comfort of their own home and still receive the information they require.”