Judge Lawyers by Their Work Not Their Location

May 26, 2023

Skadden recently announced that it wants lawyers in the office at least four days a week. I am not privy to Skadden’s financials or the current firm culture, but I know the hybrid work model is nothing new for lawyers and paralegals.

For as long as I have known any lawyers, they have worked at home. The model has always favored the firms because it was “be present at least five days in the office” and then work at home at nights and on the weekends.

Growing up in a small town in southwest Missouri, one of my good friends was the son of one of the town’s preeminent lawyers. Everybody in town knew this lawyer and his law firm.

If my friend’s father was home when I visited their house, we had to play outside or in their basement. We could not make too much noise if my friend’s father was in “the study” because he was working.

His father would work at the office and then bring work home at night and on weekends. Sometimes he would work in the office on weekends, but even then he brought work home on Saturday and Sunday nights.

He was the only attorney I knew growing up. My initial impression of practicing law was that work never stopped – lawyers worked at work and then worked at home.

Over 15 years later, I became an associate at a big law firm in Kansas City. As new associates at a big law firm, the firm expected us to bill a lot of hours.

I routinely brought work home at night, went into the office on weekends for "face time," and then brought work home for the weekend. When I traveled for work, I worked on planes, at airports, and in hotels. I was not alone. All of my fellow associates worked this way.

I went in-house with my favorite client after 11 years at the law firm. My office with the company was in Arden Hills, Minnesota, but for several reasons, my family did not move to Minnesota. They remained in Kansas City.

Thankfully, I had the world’s best, most forward-thinking bosses. Long before the pandemic, my bosses allowed me to follow a hybrid work model -- four days a week in the office in Minnesota and one day a week in Kansas City. Because of everything I was handling for the company, I also worked in Kansas City over the weekends (that was my decision – I loved the work and the company). 

During my eighth year of the hybrid work with the commute from Kansas City to Minnesota, I needed to work more in Kansas City for family reasons. I told my boss, the General Counsel that I needed to find a job in Kansas City. Instead, he told me to give up my Minnesota office and work from home.

That was an amazingly generous and forward-thinking approach. He was ahead of his time in allowing me to work remotely.

I moved to a completely remote model. But the next year, we had a lot of trials, and I was away from Kansas City just as much as when I worked four days a week in Minnesota. Eventually, a Kansas City law firm recruited me, and I left the company to be home more often.

My story was just a long-winded way of noting that working away from the office is not new. Legal professionals have worked at home and on the road for decades. Law firms and legal departments have promoted the "work-where-you are-when-you-are-out-of-the-office culture" for decades. Lawyers have always had to work where they are to meet billable hour expectations and meet deadlines.

Law firm profitability has grown except in the most challenging global financial times like the Great Recession. Remote and hybrid work has been a way of life for legal professionals. Personally, I think legal professionals should be judged based on the work they do, not where they do their work.

Here is a link to the story about Skadden's recent decision to force lawyers into the office four days a week: https://bit.ly/42b2I94

P.S. This post was written from my perspective as a lawyer, but I have known many paralegals and other legal professionals who also worked from home and on the road.