What is it like to work for a remote firm?

Written by: Kelly Reid, Realm Recruit
Published on: 5 Jul 2021

Remote working

Over the last 12 months, most of us have adapted to working from home. While some lawyers are starting to return to the office, at least on a part-time basis, others have decided that they would prefer to work from home permanently and are exploring remote working opportunities. Kelly Reid from Realm Recruit discusses the pros and cons of making the switch to a fully remote solicitor career.

While most smaller law firms are adopting a hybrid model of working and want their lawyers back in the office for at least a couple of days a week, there are some larger city centre firms that are taking on staff on a remote basis. The firms that are doing so tend to have teams that work on a national level and so their lawyers are used to working remotely with colleagues from across the country.

The pros

You don’t need to commute to the office

For a lot of people, the main benefit of working from home over the last 12 months has been the absence of the daily commute. Those who work fully remotely don’t need to worry about travelling into the office, which can take a long time, negatively impact the environment and be costly.

You’ll have more flexibility

Without a commute, lawyers who work fully remotely have more free time to spend with family, dedicate to hobbies or simply unwind at the end of the working day! What’s more, firms that offer remote working are often more flexible in terms of working hours too, so lawyers can fit their working schedules around their other commitments.

In addition, unless you have a client meeting scheduled, if you’re working from home you can generally do away with the smart suit/ heels and wear more comfortable clothes to work in.

You can still benefit from a strong support network

While this certainly wasn’t the case in March last year when we went into lockdown, now firms have had the time to put in place practices to ensure that their lawyers feel connected. Tools such as Teams and Zoom have helped colleagues keep in touch with one another throughout the day and many firms have facilitated remote social and wellbeing initiatives too.

At the beginning of 2020, I assisted a private client partner move to a full-service firm in Manchester city centre. When it came to her joining her new firm, the country was in full lockdown and she joined the firm remotely. She was initially worried that she would struggle to form relationships with her colleagues in the same way as she might have done had she been working in the office together.

She was surprised to find that while she hadn’t mixed much with the wider team, she got to know the people she worked with on a daily basis better faster because of the effectiveness of the remote set-up. What’s more, because when she speaks with colleagues they are in their kitchens or home offices and the boundaries between home and work are blurred, she feels like she’s been able to get to know them on a deeper, more personal level.

You can continue to handle good-quality work

It tends to be the larger city-centre firms that are more likely to offer positions that are fully or nearly fully remote. Because departments within these firms often operate as a national team, they have the infrastructure in place for remote working and their lawyers are used to working with colleagues from across the country.

As you would expect, it’s these firms that routinely deal with the best quality work, so those who work remotely get the chance to handle top-quality matters from the comfort of their home offices.

You can be paid well

At the same time, these firms pay very well. Without the costly commute, lawyers who work remotely for city-centre firms enjoy higher take-home pay and more time to enjoy what they earn.

You’ll probably be more productive

A lot of people have found that they’re able to work much more productively at home. Without the interruptions of meetings or colleagues stopping by their desk for a chat, many lawyers have found it easier to focus at home and some of the people I’ve spoken to have had their most successful years to date in terms of billings.

In Realm’s COVID-19 survey last summer, 73% of lawyers said that they are just as productive if not more so when working from home. From an employer’s perspective, this is of course excellent news, not only from a commercial point of view but because productivity is a key indicator of job satisfaction.

You can apply for opportunities further afield

When you’re working fully remotely, you don’t necessarily need to live close to the office. This is particularly beneficial for those who live in rural locations who otherwise wouldn’t be able to work for a city-centre firm. Equally, from an employer’s perspective, law firms have a larger talent pool geographically to explore when they’re looking to recruit.

The cons

It can be lonely

Working at home rather than in an office with colleagues can be a lonely experience. While many firms have put systems in place to ensure good communication is maintained amongst remote workers, working from home still doesn’t provide the same level of social interaction with colleagues, which can be difficult, particularly for lawyers who live alone.

It’s less easy to develop your skills

Depending on where you’re at in your career, working remotely can impact your on-the-job learning. This is especially true for NQs, trainees and junior paralegals who in a traditional office setting would learn from working closely with more senior colleagues. When you’re at home, not only are you not working near experienced lawyers, but you might not feel as comfortable reaching out to them to ask questions or seek advice.

Because of this, working for a remote firm is arguably more appropriate for a more experienced lawyer who feels comfortable working autonomously.

The boundaries between work and home life can become blurred

When you’re working in your home environment and perhaps using your personal laptop or mobile phone for work, it can be tricky to separate work life and home life.

What’s more, some people who work remotely don’t have a dedicated office space at home and instead have a makeshift space in their living room, kitchen or elsewhere. Setting up a home office can help to distinguish between home and work life; without this, the boundaries between the two can become blurred and it can be difficult to switch off at the end of the working day.

As you can see, working for a remote firm won’t suit everyone. After primarily working at home over the last year, most people are looking for a mix of home and office working and this is likely to become the norm going forwards.

However, for more experienced lawyers who’d like to do away with the daily commute, perhaps work for a law firm further afield and enjoy a healthier work-life balance, working from home full-time is certainly a very attractive option.