Dan Packel: When It Comes to Office Returns, Associates and Staff Are a Workforce Divided

Extract from Dan Packel’s article “When It Comes to Office Returns, Associates and Staff Are a Workforce Divided”

Law firm associates and staffers might be united in their relative lack of power in an industry dominated by partners and firm leaders. But when it comes to their comfort with returning to the workplace on a more regular basis this fall, the two groups are of decidedly different minds.

Virtually no one in either group has any interest in spending five days a week at the office. That ship has sailed after a year-plus of remote work. Yet associates are more bullish on a hybrid future than nonlawyer professionals, some of whom would be happy to leave their commutes in the past. It’s a reminder that the deepest rift within law firms isn’t between generations but between lawyers and staff—and that firms have no easy task trying to keep everyone satisfied as they welcome their teams back to the office.

After a year-and-a-half of pandemic-imposed dislocation, young lawyers are unwilling to renounce the flexibility they gained as a counterweight to the steady erosion of boundaries between home and work. But many also acknowledge that they miss the social interactions that accompany in-person work. A number of staffers, meanwhile, fear that a return to the office will inherently be a return to second-class citizenship.

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