Well, you’ve got to give this unnamed senior partner credit for saying the quiet part out loud.
This morning, Skadden announced that it would backtrack on its current 3-day hybrid office model and institute a 4-day, Monday-Thursday attendance model starting in September. And, of course, the firm intends to factor compliance with the policy into performance reviews. Because why evaluate attorneys on work product or revenue generated when face time is an option?
Executive partner Eric Friedman blasted this message to the firm:
If the message found attorneys well, they didn’t stay that way for long. Is the irony lost on Skadden leadership that it trusts remote work technology to deliver the message that the firm no longer trusts its remote work model?
Yes. Yes it is.
The “specified remote work periods” include stretches like Thanksgiving week and the week between Christmas and the New Year.
It continues to confound that law firms seem unable to grasp that the value of hybrid office models is entirely in flexibility. Associates care less about the number of days they have to come in than the freedom to craft an office and commuting schedule that works for them. A three-day weekend (or more accurately a “three-day at home period that corresponds to what non-lawyers define as a “weekend”) might suit one lawyer, while another just wants Wednesdays at home because that’s the day that works for their child care.
And the advantage for the firm itself is in hoteling concepts — reducing the physical office footprint (and the associated overhead expenses) by having associates in on a rotating basis throughout the week. Making everyone come in on the same days requires keeping all the office space but utilizing it less.
Associates are not pleased. “If they enforce it I’ll quit, I’ve got tons of recruiting emails coming to me,” wrote one tipster. Biglaw compensation always presents a bit of a collective action problem, but a lot of folks overlook how this applies to office policies. If Skadden gets caught out on a M-Th mandatory limb while peer firms offer flexibility or fewer in-office days, it’s functionally placing a fire sale sign on its associate ranks.
And one unverified tip suggests that partners might not be pleased either — likely recognizing all the issues outlined above. According to this source, the policy was put to a vote at the partners meeting and failed. Could firm leadership have really ignored the collective will of the partners he imposed the policy anyway?
Oh, there’s a bit more:
In other words, the partners don’t want to be here in August either.
Which cuts to the core of these “return to the office” policies. Some partners are lonely and they want the single-serving friends that they pay to come hang out with them in the office. There are a lot of valid issues with fully remote work — mostly concerning training and team-building — but firms can address those without packing the office to the brim four days a week.
Partners are lonely. And they don’t think kids — or whatever other interest an attorney might have — should keep them from having juniors in the office to either pal around with or systemically berate.
So, yeah, “you didn’t see your kids before the pandemic….”
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.