Telecommuting – Will the law firm accept it?

The question was asked by a lawyer, “How can I get my law firm to allow me (and pay for) to telecommute.

This is a question being asked more frequently … And the answers from larger law firms vary.

In my experience, whether the employer-law firm is interested in telecommuting depends on the previous practices of the law firm, their relationship with the lawyer (longer term employees get more leeway), their perception about how effective the lawyer will be on their practice (transaction usually easier “sell” than litigation) and their perception of client reactions.

Client reactions and client service always are voiced as primary concerns, as they should be. The nature of one’s practice … and the intention of the lawyer to be “super-connected” to respond quickly is essential in determining the answer to this question.

There is no entitlement here; employees (even partners) are not entitled to work from home when a physical office space is available. Start from that position and realize that you may have an uphill effort to get telecommuting accepted in your firm.

The employee must also answer the economic question for the firm: What will happen to my office space that no longer will be used for at least 20% of the time? Is there someone else that can use the office on your day “off”? The firm still “eats” this cost and now incurs a larger cost of off-site operations and loss of the “water cooler” effect of going down the hall to talk with the telecommuting lawyer — (just never the same as in-person connection). Many firms are unwilling to deal with this.

The response that the lawyer travels a lot and is not in the office anyway doesn’t seem to satisfy employers nor deal with the question effectively.

This arena seems to have a “feel” similar to the old voice mail issue. The technology is good, but is its utilization effective. Telephone companies soon started an advertising campaign (“Reach out and touch someone.”) to bring technology back to the human level. Now, we have the idea of “high tech and high touch.”

I’m not sure what that means for telecommuting. I do know, however, that there must be visibility in the office, there must be “high touch,” if the lawyer is to succeed. Coupling this with telecommuting will be difficult, though not impossible.


Categorized in: