Working from home trends may not be good for East Anglian law firms
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Our agency is watching very closely at the trends in the market and in particular, what firms will be doing about work from home policies as restrictions continue to lift.
There are a number of reasons why law firms in this region should be concerned about the trend to work from home.
Regional pay vs London pay
If London firms allow staff to work from home for large portions of the week, but continue to pay London wages, lawyers in East Anglia, especially ones who enjoy working from home, may be more likely to work for London firms in the months and years that follow restrictions being lifted. We are already aware of local lawyers who have joined London firms and are working from home.
Firms who have high quality work (along with high quality lawyers who are true specialists) are particularly vulnerable to this trend. But it is a trend that could impact a large number of firms.
Law firms in this region may find there is upwards pressure on wages if London firms start advertising the trend that their lawyers can work from home (many have already done this). It all depends on the candidate pool and how well firms are able to find suitable lawyers to fill their roles.
There is a general trend with lawyer hires that most lawyers, especially in the bracket of 0-5 years, tend to move to a bigger law firm. That trend is common because larger firms tend to offer more money, and at 0-5 years’ PQE, this is important to have. At this stage in their lives many lawyers will be driven primarily by money. Rare is the lawyer who moves to a smaller firm in this window; it can and does happen, especially for improved overall prospects, but a move like that is more rare.
Lawyers with a following or who generate their own work (who usually work in lean firms in remote locations)
Lawyers who have a following or who can generate their own work without reliance on their firm are relatively rare. However they are more likely to exist in remote locations as opposed to cities. Lawyers with a following/who can generate their own work are more likely to go wherever the money is better if they are spending large amounts of time working from home. This may include having the confidence to set up on their own, or join consultancy firms such as Setfords, Keystone and others, which is a trend that has only been accelerated by the pandemic.
Regional hours vs London hours
A big pull to the former London lawyer is to join the regions where there is a perceived better work/life balance. However, regional lawyers, in many cases (definitely not all cases) are now working far excess of their usual working hours. We have personally spoken to lawyers in a wide range of practice areas, for example: private client, commercial property, employment, litigation, conveyancing, family etc who are, in many instances, working 12 hour days or longer. So it is not necessarily true that regional lawyers enjoy a better work/life balance – and they aren’t paid London salaries.
What these trends mean
We are going to stop short of saying that entire types of law firms will disappear. But hiring conditions will get harder for firms as they will struggle to replace lawyers who leave. And firms will find it difficult to get the balance right on pay and flexibility in order to avoid finding themselves in this position.
For lawyers these changes in the market could give more choice of where to work and in some cases the opportunity to get paid significantly more money for doing similar work. However, the work from home trend may turn out to be relatively temporary – it remains to be seen how long-term these changes are.
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