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Return to the Office, Continue Working from Home, or Simply Quit?

Written by Doug Austin, Editor of eDiscovery Today

Last week, I wrote about whether virtual court proceedings are here to stay, and the benefits and challenges of conducting court proceedings virtually. But the courtroom is just one type of venue impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic for legal industry professionals. 

The next question is, will they return to the office anytime soon, or ever? And if required to return to the office, how will they react?

Most Expect and Want a Permanent Shift to Home Working

At least in one poll, conducted by The Global Legal Post, more than three quarters of business lawyers are anticipating a permanent shift to home working once lockdown restrictions end. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said there would be a slight (45%) or substantial (32%) shift to working from home with just 23% expecting a full return to pre-COVID norms.

Nearly as many (69%) said they believed this change would improve work-life balance with 50% believing it will boost productivity; that compares to just 17% who expect work life balance to deteriorate and 16% who feel the same about productivity.

Half the respondents were law firm partners with a quarter in other law firm roles, while 16% were in-house lawyers of whom 7% were general counsel.

While that might seem like a small, isolated sample size, it appears to be reflective of the workforce in general, at least in terms of desire. 

According to a Harris Poll survey of 2,063 adults May 14-16 (published by USA Today), 40% of Americans prefer to work from home full-time, compared with 35% who seek a home-office hybrid, and 25% who want to go back to the office full-time. 

Workers cite a variety of concerns about going back to the office, including losing the flexibility they’ve enjoyed while teleworking, getting back to their pre-pandemic routines, health worries, and (my favorite concern) having to make small talk again with co-workers.

Law Firm Openings Run the Gamut

How are law firms handling the return to the office? 

The responses appear to be across the board, according to this law firm tracker that is continuing to be updated by Above the Law (with responses from 31 firms as of this writing). 

A few have been along the line of not requiring its attorneys to return to the office in 2021, but others have “strongly” encouraged a return to the office by its attorneys as soon as July, while others have targeted “a full return to the office” after Labor Day. 

Some firms have also indicated that they expect or at least “strongly encourage” all personnel to be vaccinated.

Some Would Rather Quit Than Return to the Office

For those firms and companies that are beginning to dictate (or “strongly encourage”) a return to the office, they are being met in some instances with dissatisfaction and resistance.  Some are even quitting instead of returning. 

According to a May survey cited by Bloomberg of 1,000 U.S. adults, 39% of respondents would consider quitting if their employers weren’t flexible about remote work. Many have predicted a culture “war” over the battle between firms and companies requiring in-office work and employees who have come to embrace the benefits of remote work, at least some of the time.

Conclusion

With responses to the end of the pandemic and return to the office varying widely, eDiscovery professionals should continue to be flexible in terms of where they work, where their clients are located, and the types and locations of the data sources associated with discovery projects. 

In other words, business as usual, even in unusual times!

Join IPRO Vice President of Product Management Frederic Bourget, and other thought leaders July 7 the Bay Area Virtual Digital Government Summit as they discuss Preparing for the Post-Pandemic Workplace.

For more educational topics from me related to eDiscovery, cybersecurity and data privacy, feel free to follow my blog, eDiscovery Today!