As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and employers consider plans for phasing their work forces back into the office, members of the legal community have been watching BigLaw firms’ every move toward pre-pandemic operations. Who will have to come back in, and how often? Will they keep their existing office space, or renegotiate their leases and downsize? Will vaccines be required?
Of course, each small firm has its unique advantages and challenges in navigating a return to the office (or deciding against one), dependent on a variety of factors like practice area and firm culture. Diane Camacho is the founder and CEO of DLC Consulting Services, a San Francisco firm that provides management consulting services to small and solo law firms. Since vaccines started rolling out across California, she’s had her hands full with questions from clients about their post-pandemic transition plans.
Among the small firms she provides consulting for, Camacho says, “there’s a real mixed bag” as to how they’re thinking about what their practice management strategies might look like in the future.
“Attorneys want to know what everybody else is doing before they make a decision,” she said. “They like to benchmark, as they call it.”
But as Camacho surveys the landscape of her legal professional network, at least one thing seems clear: “the mega firms are going to be less flexible than the small firms.”
Remote firm management
The most common questions she’s been getting from attorneys at small firms about the transition back to the office, Camacho said, is how to get their staff to comeback with them.
Some small firms, like Bolt Keenley Kim, have had remote work baked into their office management styles since before the pandemic. Those firms’ business models rely on attorneys to do more administrative work, rather than retaining a full administrative staff.
But for some firms, remote work was brand new. And the attorneys at those firms,as Camacho puts it, “like having someone at their fingertips.”
“It goes with the generations, quite frankly, and the type of law. What kind of support they need, and how much work their staff can quantify from home,” she said. “But a lot of them would like to have their employees back.”
There are plenty of well-documented reasons that those staffers — and office workers of all kinds — might want to stay remote post-pandemic: greater flexibility,shorter or nonexistent commutes, savings on transportation and child care.
This article was originally published by Katherine Proctor on Continuing Education of the Bar – California: https://research.ceb.com/posts/while-biglaw-maneuvers-complicated-office-returns-californias-small-firms