Tom Sharbaugh (Penn State), Will Remote Work Adversely Affect the Training, Productivity, and Retention of Lawyers?:
One bright sunny day, Jack, a junior lawyer, discovers what could be a problem—Great Idea Inc., the big-potential startup corporate client for which he is working, does not have any organizational records. Jack’s job is to prepare Great Idea for a major venture capital investment. He has the Certificate of Incorporation that was filed in Delaware three years earlier, but the officers of the company say that their only records consist of a cloud-stored spreadsheet that shows the equity ownership upon which the three owners have agreed. Jack knows that the Delaware corporate statute requires an organizational meeting for the election of directors and then board action to issue shares and elect officers.
Jack calls out to Jill, another junior lawyer, at a nearby table in their open co-working space and asks if the failure of Great Idea to adhere to these formalities is a problem. If shares were never issued in accordance with the statute, how could there be any stockholders? If directors were never elected, how could officers have been appointed? If officers were never appointed, are all of their executive actions since formation void? Jill has not encountered this problem but recalls that Dottie, a more senior associate, had these issues with a startup company that the founders organized themselves through an online do-it-yourself commercial site. Jill cautioned Jack that various corrective actions would be necessary before the venture capital deal could move forward.
Jack and Jill walked down the hall and asked Dottie for advice about whether these defects from several years ago could be fixed. Dottie referred Jack and Jill to a set of documents with which Jack could ratify the previous actions by the de facto stockholders, directors, and officers.
This type of exchange happens every day within law firms, law departments, and other groups of lawyers. There is little discussion, however, of the best way for this common knowledge-sharing practice to work in a totally remote or “hybrid” working arrangement. This question deserves much more attention in the frequent discussions of the inevitability of new totally remote and partially remote (i.e., hybrid) working arrangements for lawyers. There are many articles written about the opportunities to save rent and other occupancy costs if lawyers and other office workers are physically present in their offices for only part of the normal work week, if at all. ...
Unless legal employers find better ways to recreate the in-office experience for their WFH lawyers, there will be negative impacts on, among other things, the training of junior lawyers, the collaboration among members of lawyer working groups, and the personal relationships among lawyers in the workplace. ...
Although totally remote and hybrid work arrangements present a big opportunity for employers to save on rent and other occupancy-related expenses, law firms and other legal employers would be wise to use at least some of their savings to invest in ways to reduce the inevitable adverse impact that remote working will have on the training of junior lawyers and on various workplace characteristics that are important to productivity and retention.
These future investments may relate to technologies that have not yet been invented or they may take the form of such traditional “bonding” activities as free in-office lunches, lawyer off-site retreats, and group public-service projects. However accomplished, employers should be conscious of these “people issues,” not just the short-term occupancy savings that are available.