The legal profession is filled with telecommuters, albeit
many unwitting ones. Travelling lawyers who work out of hotels, their firms'
branch offices, or the offices of local counsel are telecommuters. Litigators
in court and transactional lawyers closing deals outside their own offices
are remote workers. As I report in Telecommuting for Lawyers (American
Bar Association Law Practice Management Section, 1998), according to a
recent survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over half of the
almost 900,000 lawyers and judges surveyed performed at least some work
from home. In short, working outside the office, or telecommuting, is routine
in the profession. As my book describes, some firms have chosen to maximize
the benefits of this familiar practice, authorizing every lawyer, from
entry-level associate to senior partner, to telecommute at least on a part-time
Nonetheless, there remains resistance in the profession to giving
lawyers the freedom to work from home. Some of the objections lawyers raise
to telework are similar to objections raised by corporate middle managers,
but some are more specific to the profession. In the paragraphs below,
I will identify some common objections lawyers raise and explain why these
objections are misplaced:
1. "It may be a good idea for women with
young families, but not for those committed to the full-time practice of
Telework should not automatically be linked with family
friendly policies. As Telecommuting for Lawyers details, telework is primarily
a more profitable way to run a law firm than traditional practice strategies.
It can certainly have benefits for lawyers with dependents. But lawyers
and firms report a wide variety of reasons for implementing telework, including
increased productivity and marketability and significant overhead savings.
Nor should telecommuting be confused with part-time lawyering. It
is a way of working, whether you work full-time or part-time. Indeed, many
lawyers report that telecommuting increases their work time, making them
available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week anywhere they are.
At least partly because telework facilitates the workaholic tendencies
many successful lawyers have, telecommuters include among the most high
powered law firm partners in the country.
2. "We are in the business of crisis
management. We need on-the-spot availability."
You are more likely to get such availability with telework
than without it. For example, if an emergency arises requiring resources
only available in the office and the responsible lawyer has left the office
for the day, he or she may not be able to handle it. However, if the necessary
tools are all on the lawyer's notebook computer, he or she can get to work
anywhere. Lawyers can review documents together on their computer screens
in different locations and simultaneously discuss on the phone how to handle
the problem. They use telephones and e-mail to address questions as they
The perception that lawyers will be less available because they
are offsite reflects the assumption that lawyers outside the office are
not working. If you have hired the right lawyers, properly equipped them
and trained them to use the technology, they can--and will--always "be
there" for you.
3. "I have to be in court every day."
Even litigators frequently in court can telecommute. First,
telecommuting does not have to be frequent. If there are even a few days
per month you do not go to court, you may be able to work from home on
those days. Second, when you go to court, it may not be for the whole day.
You still need to consider where is the most efficient place to perform
your work during that part of the day when you are not in court. For example,
if the court house is actually closer to your home than your office, why
go to the office just because you have to be in court?
4. "You don't get the same kind of interaction
from e-mail and telephone communications. Lawyers need to meet face-to-face.
Also, spontaneously bouncing ideas off each other is part of the fun of
law firm practice."
Telecommuting does not mean you seclude yourself permanently
at home. As I suggested above, many telecommuters only work off-site on
a part-time basis. Moreover, while full-time teleworkers may use their
home as their primary office, they continue to go to the office or elsewhere
whenever necessary. Thus, face-to-face meetings generally remain important
in teleworking firms. However, such meetings tend to be planned, with the
result that participants come better prepared and the meetings are more
Further, face-to-face meetings are no longer the exclusive or primary
means of communication. Telephone conversations (still good for a spontaneous
brainstorming session), e-mail, and voice mail substitute for many contacts
that would otherwise be in person, serving as well or better. They enable
lawyers to be in more frequent contact with other lawyers and clients,
keeping them current without constantly interrupting them. Voice mail compels
lawyers to be succinct. E-mail (because it is recorded information) may
compel greater accuracy. With telecommuting, you have in-person meetings
when you need them and use telecommunications when you don't.
Is worklife less fun with this variety of communication options?
Those who think so should continue to work mainly in the office. But law
firm managers should consider that not every lawyer thrives on the unplanned
meeting. To help assure that the firm maximizes each lawyer's potential,
lawyers need the option to decide where they can be most productive.
5. "Clients will not respect work-at-home lawyers."
To the contrary, many telecommuters report either positive
or indifferent responses from clients. Because it is often easier to reach
a lawyer working at home than an office-based lawyer "away from his desk,"
clients tend to appreciate the increased availability of telecommuters.
In addition, corporate clients already familiar with telework in their
own companies or other clients who work from home may feel at ease with
lawyers who do the same. Clients may also be attracted to firms where increased
efficiency and reduced office use result in reduced professional fees and
6. "What incentive do we have to become
more efficient if we bill by the hour?"
Clients demanding more predictable costs will leave firms
in favor of those that can achieve results in less time. Although you may
bill less per matter, you can use the time you save to develop and work
on new business. Moreover, because work product improves when you enhance
efficiency, you may actually be able to command higher fees.
7. "In my office, out-of-sight is out-of-mind."
The fact that your office is not currently prepared for
telework, doesn't mean it can't become so. A successful telework program
requires training, not only of telecommuters, but of their supervisors
and other co-workers. Among the goals of training are to teach office-based
workers techniques for remembering and including remote workers and to
teach telecommuters how to stay "in mind."
8. "Many of the features of a successful telework
program--like training, technology consultants, extra insurance, new taxes
and licensing requirements--seem more trouble and expense than they are
Telecommuting has been the subject of many trials and much research.
The evidence is clear that the economic benefits substantially outweigh
the costs of developing and running the program. In order to make your
firm more profitable, you have to spend money. For example, you may spend
a lot of money purchasing new hardware and software for your firm to permit
remote access. Used properly, this equipment can improve your firm's profitability
dramatically. However, your investment may cost you much more than the
purchase price unless you also retain MIS people to install and maintain
your tools and train your firm to use them.
Similarly, it will cost something to address the various legal issues
pertaining to telework (e.g., assuring compliance with workplace safety
rules in the home, satisfying business licensing requirements, paying the
proper tax authorities in telecommuter jurisdictions, etc.). However, the
gains are likely to justify the expense. Real estate savings, e.g., may
far exceed these costs. Telecommuting for Lawyers includes tips on how
to budget for telework. Until you have undertaken the budgeting process,
do not assume new costs are additional costs.
Although law firm practitioners tend to regard their practices as
distinct from businesses, they are nonetheless generally as anxious as
business people to reach the bottom line. Telework is proving a management
strategy that helps firms accomplish this goal. While making them more
profitable, it improves the quality of the services they render.