Wall Street’s Davis Polk changes office to four days a week (2)

Davis Polk & Wardwell is increasing on-site work requirements, forcing attorneys to attend the firm’s offices four days a week.

Lawyers and corporate service providers at the Wall Street firm must be in the office Monday through Thursday after Labor Day, Davis Polk managing partner Neil Barr said Wednesday in an internal email obtained by Bloomberg Law. Previously, the firm had required its attorneys to be in the office Tuesday through Thursday each week.

Davis Polk is also introducing a new annual remote bank, Barr said in the email. The firm will give attorneys the opportunity to choose 16 days per year for remote work.

Davis Polk is just the latest law firm to opt for more on-site hours for its attorneys in the wake of the pandemic. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom announced late last month that their lawyers are required to be in office four days a week. Simpson Thacher & Barlett and Sidley Austin have threatened to withhold bonus money from employees who are absent from the office three days a week.

Davis Polk previously explained that being in the office plays a role in attorney bonuses.

“The primary reason for our office attendance philosophy is a desire to provide premier professional development opportunities for all members of our community,” Barr said in his email.

“I believe that these opportunities arise primarily from our combined presence in the office and simply cannot be used as effectively for our company in a remote environment,” he said.

The moves by Davis Polk and others to tighten office work requirements make it clear that law firms are once again influencing the workforce, which has held significant power during recent recruiting wars, said Stephanie Biderman, a New York-based lawyer Recruiter at Major, Lindsey & Africa.

In 2021, business deals hit record levels. Law firms, faced with increasing demand, turned to remote working, showering their employees with bonuses and raises to hire and retain talent.

“Now that the economy has picked up a bit, I think that reflects the fact that companies have more leverage than before,” Biderman said of the decisions to increase office presence.

Law firms risk losing attorneys as attendance requirements increase, she said.

For some companies, “the risk/reward analysis of personal training and mentoring and all that and the culture outweighs the risk of losing employees,” Biderman said.