Traditional and risk averse, the legal profession is renowned for its somewhat cautious approach to innovation. But even law firms were unable to resist the enormous changes to working practices that came in with the pandemic. And it seems now that many lawyers are reluctant to give up their newly found flexibility. According to a recent study by legal software firm BigHand, the call for mandatory office days in leading law firms is being met with considerable opposition. Over a third of UK respondents said they were 'actively ignoring' directives to stop working from home and almost half said they would look for a new job if compelled to work more than three days a week in the office.

Ed Simpson 1

Ed Simpson

So, what does this mean for the year to come? It certainly seems that change is afoot, and the future success of law firms may lie with those who are prepared to embrace this change and evolve their operational model. This will undoubtedly pose challenges. High staff turnover is a costly and time-consuming feature of today’s volatile job market, and it is the goal of every law firm to attract and retain the best talent. This necessarily involves making your firm an appealing place to work and accommodating some of the expectations of your staff. Balancing this imperative, whilst maximising your lawyers’ fee earning capabilities and giving your junior staff sufficient support and learning opportunities, however, is no mean feat. Nor is attempting to foster a team spirit and build community when your staff aren’t in the same place at the same time.

I have seen enormous changes in the fifteen years since I set up The Legal Director, a law firm which places senior in-house lawyers with businesses on a flexible and part-time basis, and I continue to learn lessons about how to supply quality legal services whilst supporting the team. Our client legal directors are based all over the country and work from home and/or client offices. So, I have already had to address many of the issues that are concerning the big law firms today. Here’s what I think we could see in the year to come…

A goodbye to remote working policies?

What’s clear from the BigHand research is that directing flexible working has not gone down well with many lawyers – and this push for a more structured week and mandatory days in the office is being ignored, with lawyers threatening to vote with their feet if they don’t get their own way. For many firms and businesses, wholescale flexible working is still a relatively new phenomenon, which many are still getting to grips with. Whilst it’s unlikely we will see policies directing flexible and remote working disappear in 2023, we could see bosses rethink what these policies look like and interrogate why they really want everyone in the office on a set number of days, for example. I cannot overstate the importance of regular internal communication and it’s these sorts of policies where firms really need to invest time to get the balancing act right. They need to come up with a policy which works for the wider firm and also suits the lawyers. No mean feat and something which will likely require consistent attention in the year to come.

Careers with a purpose

In my role I have seen lawyers increasingly looking to take their career in a different direction and regain some autonomy. The last couple of years has certainly helped accelerate this trend, as the pandemic made many people take a step back and re-evaluate not just their career but the big questions in life, including their purpose and how their role reflects this. This has led to the ‘Great Resignation’ which is still impacting the legal sector, with many firms and businesses struggling to recruit. I don’t think this is going away – we will continue to see lawyers seek new opportunities which better reflect their purpose. After periods of lockdowns and mandatory isolation, lawyers also want more control over their day-to-day and are increasingly seeking more varied legal work. For many, the traditional path to a successful legal career looks less appealing.

True hybrid evolution

Hybrid working is certainly becoming mainstream in the legal sector, but the shift has been slow and subtle in many firms. I think we could see more firms in 2023 really interrogating and overhauling their hybrid working practices. This way of working requires more than just a cursory virtual meeting option – many things need to be held in balance, especially how to ensure collaboration is happening, lawyers are supported and mental health is prioritised. I expect 2023 will see huge technological strides forward in this regard and whilst a Metaverse office is probably a little way in the future, the next year will certainly see steps in that direction in the legal sector.

It’s clear that practices are changing, and I believe those firms that embrace these changes will see positive outcomes that they may not have predicted. The traditional structure of law firms and the conventional path to partnership is one that suits few people.

Increasingly, employees are assessing firms on broader criteria than the salaries they offer. Many people appreciate working for a company that offer flexible working practices and prioritise an ethical agenda. Rethinking how and where your employees work could not only enhance your reputation with your employees but could also open the door to more diverse talent which can only be of benefit to the legal profession.


Ed Simpson is CEO at The Legal Director