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Law in the Marketplace: Should Lawyers Work Remotely?

Written by: John M. Cunningham

Published in the Concord Monitor (7/31/2021) and NH Bar News (8/18/2021)

Eric Grossman, the chief legal officer of Morgan Stanley, the billion-dollar global investment bank, recently sent a letter to all law firms working for his company, advising them that Morgan Stanley would no longer use the services of any of these firms if any of their lawyers worked remotely.  His reasoning was, apparently, that these firms could not do effective mentoring of their younger lawyers or maintain adequate inter-lawyer collegiality.

Should New Hampshire lawyers work remotely?  The question is immensely complex, and the answer will undoubtedly vary greatly from law firm to law firm.  But it is also a critically important question, not only for lawyers but also for non-lawyers.  Below are some guidelines I propose for answering the question as relevant to New Hampshire lawyers.  However, I hope these guidelines will be useful not only for lawyers but also for non-lawyers who read this column.

Obviously, as long as the COVID pandemic continues, law firms that require or permit their lawyers to work in their offices should ensure full compliance by everyone in their offices, whether lawyers, staff, or clients, with applicable CDC rules.  This applies especially to the compliance necessary to protect lawyers and staff from the Delta variant, which may be a serious threat for a long time.

Equally obviously, lawyers who because of age, comorbidities or other factors may face significant COVID risks if they work in the offices of their law firms should not be required by their firms to do so.

Many law firms may share the above Morgan Stanley beliefs.  But many of them may conclude that they will suffer no significant loss of collegiality or effective mentoring as long as, for example, the lawyers in their firms, whether new or experienced, work there only for, say, two or three days a week.

Many lawyers who are members of multi-lawyer law firms and who have worked remotely during the pandemic may feel on the basis of this experience that they can work at least as efficiently at home as their firm's offices, and many of these lawyers may also feel that working at home provides major non-professional benefits, including better family life and the avoidance of lengthy commutes, that work in their firms' offices cannot provide.  Law firms should honor the beliefs of these lawyers.

If law firms believe that any of their clients may expect all of their lawyers to work in their firms' offices and to meet with these clients in person at these offices rather than by Zoom, this belief may leave these firms with no choice but to require all of their lawyers to work in the firm's offices.  This will presumably be the case with law firms that do work for Morgan Stanley.  But my guess is that no New Hampshire clients are likely to have these expectations.

A financial consideration, based on my own personal experience as a lawyer working at home throughout the pandemic: I have found that, for reasons of convenience or otherwise, most or all of my clients, including new ones, greatly prefer to meet with me by Zoom rather than at my office and couldn't care less whether I work at home or in an office.  I suspect that many lawyers and non-lawyers and their clients and customers who read this column will share this view.

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