Our in-house legal remote work survey shows that remote GCs are here to stay in 2021, with lawyers preferring remote work long-term post-COVID.
If you’re looking for the latest remote attorney jobs, check out our curated jobs board, currently featuring remote roles at companies like Twilio, ProductBoard, MessageBird and Coinbase: Juro community jobs board
Most of us have grown accustomed to remote working since governments around the world introduced lockdowns in early 2020. But how do legal leaders feel about it? And what do they think about the year ahead?
We asked them. Below are the key findings from our interviews with 50 in-house lawyers and legal ops leaders.
Legal remote work survey results in full:
Q: Are you currently working remotely?
98% - Yes
2% - No
Q: Do you expect to be working remotely six months from now?
Q: Once it's safe for everyone to return to the office, what would you prefer your working arrangement to be?
0%: Work in the office five days a week
24%: Work mainly in the office, with one or two days remote
20%: Split office and remote work 50/50
48%: Work mainly remotely, with one or two days in the office
2%: Work remotely five days a week
4%: Other (complete flexibility on their work schedule)
In-house legal is currently fully remote
98 per cent of in-house lawyers are working remotely, and for the most part expect to be six months from now. This data isn’t surprising - it reflects the business reality in the countries where lawyers live and work. Different countries have different strategies when it comes to mitigating COVID-19’s dramatic impact, but one thing is clear - there’s no guarantee of a ‘back to normal’ in six months. What started as office-based jobs are now remote lawyer jobs for the foreseeable future.
However, the fact that 70 per cent of respondents would prefer to work remotely for at least half the time, even when it’s safe to return to the office, is surprising - and a significant change to the way lawyers tend to work. Fully 50 per cent of in-house lawyers surveyed would prefer to work mainly remotely in the future, which suggests that they don’t see remote working as a barrier to adding value and operating more efficiently.
Even compared to just a few years ago, the pandemic seems to have forced a new way of working for lawyers who may not have considered it before. Not only would the majority prefer to maintain their remote work environment, but we couldn’t find a single lawyer in 50 respondents who wanted to return to the office full-time. The increasing number of remote lawyer jobs on our jobs board suggests this trend is bigger than COVID.
“Remote working has cut the tether to a physical desk and opened up the possibility of living/working in more exotic locations. What difference does it make if I log into my laptop from my kitchen table in London or from the Swiss Alps? I think a hybrid model of working some days remotely will be the norm well after the lockdown is over”
- Ed Freeman, General Counsel, Tandem Bank
Why do lawyers want to work remotely?
Based on our conversations with customers and community members, there are several unexpected upsides to remote working for in-house legal teams.
1. More focus
Remote working, done right, means fewer interruptions, fewer ad-hoc tasks, less chat, and more productivity. When you’re the sole counsel in a busy office, you don’t want a constant stream of unsolicited requests on top of the daily workload you’re fighting to complete, especially if the legal function doesn’t have a defined, accessible process in place to structure these ad-hoc requests.
Gone are the seductive ‘quick questions’ that arise with colleagues strolling up to legal’s desk and setting in motion an afternoon-destroying query. Working remotely puts the control back with legal - they can mute notifications, set ‘do not disturb’ statuses, and block out chunks of time for high-value work, making them more effective in the long run.
This new way of working has also helped to clarify the difference between legal ‘being approachable’ and legal ‘adding value’. There’s definitely a responsibility on lawyers to communicate more effectively with the team, now that businesses are distributed and interactions can only happen virtually. Even with a huge migration to the cloud, businesses will always have a physical footprint that shouldn’t be forgotten.
"As General Counsel it’s important to support the business you work in and work collaboratively with stakeholders. Therefore if working in the office is still featured heavily in the business you work for, then I don’t see how that can be totally disregarded in the future"
- Danielle McLoughlin, Group Legal Director, The Fragrance Shop
2. General counsel strive for work-life balance
Pre-pandemic, there was often an assumption that teams could only maintain high levels of productivity if they were working in the office. With remote working misconceptions debunked, lawyers are now understanding the possibilities and appeal of flexible, remote working. Work-life balance also plays a significant role.
Lawyers also prefer to have a private space where they can dedicate time towards the important work - and this environment is more challenging to facilitate in an open plan office. It’s often an adjustment for lawyers moving in-house to give up a corner office at a law firm for a desk in a noisy open-plan office. Home working puts the noise levels (at least, in theory), back in their control.
"We've grown the Bulb Legal team remotely during the pandemic which has meant I haven't met any of my new legal colleagues in person yet! We've found lots of different ways to stay connected and get to know each other better – whether that's an evening quiz or informal coffee breaks. It's been a busy period for our team but Bulb is committed to reducing CO2 and energy bills around the world and if anything this period has made us more focussed on that mission"
- Tanya Sharma, Head of Legal, Bulb
3. Embracing collaborative tech for remote legal teams
We’ve seen in our user data that remote work has encouraged lawyers to evaluate new ways of approaching everyday tasks, in order to avoid being overwhelmed by admin work. By implementing automation tools, legal can enable other teams to self-serve, reduce the time it takes to complete these low-value tasks, and facilitate valuable collaboration between teams.
This can be as simple as switching from email communication to platforms such as Slack; sharing resources publicly on all-in-one workspaces that everyone can access; and making sure to automate the admin, such as contract work, to save time.
Legal can also set more practical and more valuable boundaries around how collaboration takes place - it’s not about answering endless questions in a private Slack channel, but instead, creating a system that automatically updates the status of the ticket colleagues submit, and blocking out time to address those tickets, so that legal can prioritize their workloads and focus on the highest-value tasks.
Our 2020 Tech GC report revealed that being “buried in low-value work” was the biggest challenge for 63 per cent of in-house lawyers surveyed. Unless lawyers embrace collaborative tools to lighten that load, they’ll find 2021 to be much similar.
“It’s possible to effectively blend tech with human to provide a seamless service to our business partners. It has made us less dependent on hard copies (less printing) and more trusting of digital (eSignatures), and made us more flexible in terms of how we work. Our organization has said that it will move to a hybrid model permanently and we are able to strike a balance where you are excited to spend time in the office with your colleagues, but also enjoy the flexibility of working from home and not having to commute"
Natalie Salunke, Head of Legal, RVU
To be set up for success as we move towards - dare we say it - a post-pandemic future, legal teams will need to ensure their companies have robust policies in place to accommodate and support remote attorney jobs and distributed teams. The learnings from this uncertain period of remote working will positively influence how lawyers engage with the business and offer support; through working in a distributed team, employees have learned how to communicate more effectively and how to work together - even when everyone’s apart.
If you're looking for the latest remote attorney jobs, check out our curated jobs board: Juro community jobs board