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WFH – Is the path to partnership now even harder?

August 2021

Trainees and non-partners, with aspirations of partnership, are concerned about the ongoing working from home (‘WFH’) situation.  Although we are hopefully coming to the end of the COVID-19 crisis, is this still a problem or can junior lawyers develop into senior lawyers without serious time in the office?

There is no doubt that for law firms in general the lockdown hasn’t been all that bad – lawyers gaining an hour or more a day, not having to sit on cramped trains, is great when you have an office at home. Nevertheless, many associates and trainees (as was reported on Legal Cheek) are worried that their careers are going to be significantly interrupted. They are right – the reality is it’s next to impossible for non-partners to get the access to training, clients, and the partners they need to progress, whilst working from home. 

We see that there are three main issues for associates and WFH:

The need for learning through osmosis – Since time began, junior lawyers have sat in the office with senior lawyers and partners. It is how strong relationships are built and it is how junior lawyers learn. Without stints in negotiations, in the court room, on walks to meetings and without listening to your partner talking on the phone, it becomes harder to develop the soft skills necessary to become a partner.

Client development – To become a partner one needs to develop relationships with clients. From our conversations with partners, the number one concern they have for senior associates is lack of face-to-face contact needed to develop new client relationships. 

Even in these more ‘conservative’ times client relationships often are still built at the pub, over lunch, or at an event, and as a result it’s going to be difficult for this era of senior associates to develop new client relationships without that social access. 

Building a case for partnership from home – Whilst building client relationships is important for partnership so is the political battle that one must wage if the aim is to become a partner. The usual winning of hearts and minds through discussions and building support within the partnership and those in different practice areas is very difficult whilst WFH. 

All this is to say, that even when we leave aside the social isolation and mental well-being issues associated with long-term WFH, continuing to do so, even part-time, is not necessarily a good thing for lawyers, their career aspirations or development. 

To discuss this topic further and/or chat about your future career plans contact Vaughan Jenkins.

BBC News