Remote work, flexibility increasingly important to young lawyers, ABA survey finds

Nearly three years after the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working remains an attractive option for attorneys, and young attorneys in particular are making it more of a priority, a new survey by the American Bar Association found.

Almost half of lawyers with 10 years or less experience said they would leave their job for one that offers more freedom to work remotely. And the majority of lawyers surveyed said the quality of their work does not suffer when they work away from the office.

Women, in particular, said their job quality, productivity, and hours worked increased as a result of remote work, the report found.

“Failure by legal employers to provide the flexibility they want will no doubt tempt many younger attorneys to vote with their feet and leave their jobs for more accommodating employers,” write survey authors Roberta D. Liebenberg and Stephanie A. Scharf.

“Given the ongoing talent struggle facing the profession, legal employers who want to prevent an exodus of the talented younger lawyers in whom they have invested so many resources (and who have a higher percentage of women and lawyers of color) should , seriously consider adopting and implementing hybrid work policies and practices that allow for true flexibility in the workplace.”

The survey, commissioned by the American Bar Association, provides an outlook on the future of the legal profession’s work following the shockwaves of the coronavirus pandemic.

Many lawyers reported better work-life balance when working remotely – and these benefits were particularly pronounced among women, according to the survey. However, lawyers also reported that remote work increased social isolation and affected the quality of relationships with colleagues.

About a third of the lawyers surveyed said they work from home almost all of the time, while about a third said they were mostly in the office. The remaining 40% said the time they work from home varies.

Women and lawyers of color said they were more concerned than their white and male colleagues about adverse consequences for not returning to the office when asked.

Scharf said in an interview that views on remote work are not just the result of the pandemic. There are also generational differences among lawyers.

Most leaders in the legal profession grew up with a culture in which you learned face face,” she said. β€œThe pandemic changed all that, but what also changed was the fact that a newer generation of lawyers grew online and they are very happy with the remote work.”

A significant majority of attorneys also said they would prefer to conduct mediation, testimony, pre-trial hearings, and even trials over Zoom or a similar platform. Only 20% said juries should be conducted remotely.

The survey also examined whether lawyers feel involved in their workplace. Women reported more stress at work because of their gender; black attorneys reported more stress because of their race or ethnicity than their white counterparts; and LGBTQ advocates and disabled advocates also felt more stressed at work as a result of belonging to these identity categories.

Women, lawyers of color, LGBTQ lawyers and disabled lawyers were also more likely to say they experienced demeaning or abusive comment at work related to these personal characteristics, the report found.

Each group was also far more likely to report feeling they couldn’t be “their authentic selves” at work either “sometimes” or “often,” according to the survey results.

According to Scharf, workplace cultures need to change to make more lawyers feel like they belong.

“When people walk around and feel like they don’t belong there, they at least think about it or think about where they can go, where they belong, where they feel like they can be their authentic selves,” she said.