When Cravath unveiled its first stab at a hybrid office policy, it looked like a pretty good plan.
While other firms scrambled to find the sweet spot between a 3-day or 4-day model, Cravath opted for maximum flexibility, informing its attorneys that the firm felt they should be out of the office about 6 days a month — a plan we dubbed the “3.5-day” model. Though despite the name, Cravath stressed that it left the distribution of those 6 days up to the lawyers, noting at the time, “We expect and trust that professionals of the caliber of our people can determine how that should translate into their weekly routine when we are back in the office.”
Contrast this with firms like Ropes & Gray, where the 3-day policy mandates the precise days everyone comes in. Forcing everyone in on certain days manages to be the worst of all worlds, forgoing any hoteling benefits a firm can generate from evenly distributing office use throughout the week while alienating lawyers who aren’t looking for half-baked 4-day weekends, but genuine flexibility to deal with whatever challenges they’ve got at home. That mandatory attendance inevitably devolves into a surveillance state only makes matters worse.
Unfortunately, it seems as though Cravath has stepped back its commitment to flexibility since the first announcement and moved more in line with the Ropes model. From an email sent to the whole firm last month:
We hope to continue to get back to a more normal office environment this fall. To that end, beginning the week of September 12, Tuesdays and Wednesdays will be designated in-office workdays where everyone across the Firm is expected to be working from the office. We also strongly encourage everyone to work from the office for a third weekday each week (which can vary week to week).
On the plus side, this reads like a “2.5” model, which affords lawyers an extra day to work with. On the down side, designated work days retreat from the flexibility touted in the earlier announcement.
These may be inevitably related: the benefit of a model that required people in the office for 4 days every couple of weeks guaranteed the sort of personnel overlap firms hope to revitalize. When firms scale back far enough, there’s a risk of attorneys becoming ships passing in the night. Would lawyers rather be in the office less but on mandated days or in the office more with flexibility? My sense is the latter.
Hybrid office models are still in their infancy, and there will be more twists and turns before the industry settles on the preferred model. But it looks like one promising option has already lost out.
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.