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Why Remote Legal Work May Become the Norm in Law

August 2019
By Axiom Law

A Forbes article from late 2018 entitled “10 Remote Work Trends That Will Dominate 2019” begins, “Remote work is no longer a privilege. It’s become the standard operating mode for at least 50% of the U.S. population.” Similarly, one year earlier, a 2017 study covered in the New York Times found that 43% of Americans had spent at least some time working remotely over the previous year. If the number of remote workers grew by 7% in just one year, it may not be long before the vast majority of the workforce not only has experience working remotely, but expects this option as part of an employment package.

It is clear that remote working has taken root across businesses in general and shows no sign of going anywhere. So why hasn’t the legal industry jumped onto the remote work trend with the same rate of adoption?

“Sometimes legal departments may feel they are conceding something if they agree to a remote work engagement,” explains Trucle Nguyen, vice president of client success at Axiom. “There is an assumption that if the person is here beside me, I can get better outcomes. But there are some flaws in this assumption, and more and more legal teams are starting to recognize this.”

Should you hire your neighbors?

When legal departments insist on an in-office, on-premises working arrangement, they inherently limit their potential talent pool. And, depending on the location of the office in question, this could create a talent acquisition and retention problem.

“The reality is that many companies have their headquarters in locations that are not near where the best legal talent lives. If a legal department’s leadership close their minds to remote work, they may need to ‘settle’ for someone who happens to live within a 20-mile radius, but may not be the ideal fit,” says Trucle.

Missing out on niche specialties

Sometimes, a legal department needs to bring on highly skilled, niche specialty experts to support a legal matter. But what happens when the right specialized talent is nowhere to be found? For instance, with the introduction of privacy regulations such as GDPR and CCPA, and with more data protection guidelines and compliance requirements likely to come, many companies have been hunting for top specialists to help navigate this complicated legal environment. If the potential talent pool is limited to the area surrounding a company’s headquarters, chances are they could miss out on the right skills match for the task at hand.

“If legal departments are willing to engage a remote lawyer, they will open up access to a much wider set of niche talent resources,” Trucle says.

Less stressed, more engaged

Commuting time and costs can be major stressors for employees, and a remote working arrangement can greatly alleviate that stress. Especially when an employee needs to spend a long time traveling back and forth to an office, removing the commuting factor can lead to increased productivity and higher job satisfaction.

“If an employee is spending a decent amount of their time commuting and worrying about traffic, they may not be able to stay as focused on their work. By saying ‘no’ to remote work, a legal department may create an environment where it’s harder to retain talent over time,” says Trucle. “For many, a remote job offer is a hard one to turn down, and what we’ve found is that remote talent makes for longer-engaged talent.”

Echoing this point, Gartner asserts that “by 2020, organizations that support a ‘choose-your-own-work-style’ culture will boost employee retention rates by more than 10%.” Given how time-consuming and expensive it can be to deal with employee turnover, and how challenging it is to find top talent given the current low unemployment rate, companies should be open to remote work arrangements as a way to attract and retain the best talent they can find.

The grass may be greener on the other side

For most legal departments, moving to a work model that allows for remote working arrangements feels like entering uncharted territory. Up until recently, for the legal industry – or any industry – remote work was not a real possibility, because there were not structures and systems to support this type of arrangement. But today, it’s not only possible, but it’s increasingly the way legal professionals want to work.

What’s more, many legal departments that are embracing this trend are seeing the grass is greener on the other side. When Axiom polled clients who have begun to use remote talent, we found that they were pleasantly surprised to discover there was no difference in the quality of their resources’ work -- and in some cases, the quality was actually better. Plus, they acknowledged they were able to engage more experienced, skilled talent than they could have found locally.

How to make remote work… work

The key to setting up for remote work success is in the early and continual building of alignment between the remote talent resource and the rest of the team.

“At Axiom, we provide toolkits and onboarding guidance for every engagement, but for remote engagements we add an extra layer of support,” explains Trucle. “We make sure everyone understands expectations -- from how the kick-off will be handled, to which systems and technology tools need to be activated, to who is who on the business roster, to what communication preferences and styles exist on both sides. We also help set up recurring meetings so that nothing falls through the cracks along the way. For remote work, it’s about setting the alignment and keeping the alignment.”

Overall, being open to remote work arrangements can give legal departments an edge in finding, attracting and retaining top talent, and can even lead to better outcomes in terms of productivity and cost-effectiveness. With employers across various sectors, and a workforce at large embracing remote work and the benefits it can offer, now may be the time for the legal industry to jump on board.

Posted by Axiom Law