Lawyers want WFH, clients want in-person meetings: A modern workplace conundrum

18 May 2022 By Shandel McAuliffe
Michael Byrnes and Carly Stebbing

Your solicitors want to work from home, but your clients want to meet face to face — how can modern law firms manage this tension?

The Lawyers Weekly Show sat down with Carly Stebbing, founder and principal at Resolution123, and Michael Byrnes, partner at Swaab, to chat about the issues facing the legal profession in a post-lockdown world.

Mr Byrnes highlighted a potential preference clash between lawyers and their clients in terms of where work is done. He stated: “I think there can be this disconnect between a lawyer’s desire to work from home, if that’s what they want to do, but also client expectations or what clients ideally like.”

Mr Byrnes went on to describe how certain types of cases might have a greater requirement for face-to-face work than others. He said: “There are some areas of law, particularly where you’re dealing with individuals who perhaps don’t necessarily regularly deal with lawyers, on matters of great sensitivity or importance to that individual, or where there’s an emotional dimension to it, where those clients really want to meet their lawyers face to face. So they will say, ‘I’d like to come in for a conference,’ ‘I’d like to discuss this with you face to face.’

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“Now, lawyers might prefer to be working from home and doing it all remotely over video conference. Objectively, it may well be that you could do it over video conference, but it’s not the ideal client experience from the client’s perspective. And of course, most law firms do take a client-centric approach these days.”

To illustrate the potential divergence between customer expectations and lawyer preferences in action, Mr Byrnes described an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. He recalled: “The gentleman gets a recommendation from the Larry David character in that show, for a very good estate lawyer. And he goes into the office of that estate lawyer, and it’s a casual Friday for the estate lawyer. And he’s there in this terrible double denim outfit, almost cowboy outfit, and the prospective client looks at him and says, ‘There’s a lot of money involved here. There’s a lot at stake. There’s a very serious issue and you are dressed like some cowboy,’ and he walks out.”

Resolution123 is a law firm that operates virtually, but Ms Stebbing did share that in some instances, they do meet face to face. She stated: “There have been times when we are doing very, very sensitive matters where we agree to meet in person. And that might be where we are dealing with a particularly sensitive sexual harassment matter or something along those lines.”

Because of how Resolution123’s pricing is structured, face-to-face meetings may attract a “price premium”. Ms Stebbing explained that they share with clients their reasoning for preferring online meetings: “We can say [to clients], ‘We are able to offer you the fixed-fee services that we do as effectively and efficiently as we do them because we do this work remotely,’. ‘And because you’re not meeting us in person, because we don’t have the overheads of an office to accommodate meetings in person. That means that the fees that you’re going to pay for this are more affordable’.”

Ms Stebbing said that there are two reasons why clients are happy to work with them online: “brand and trust” is one, and “price point” is the other.

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The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Michael Byrnes and Carly Stebbing, click below:

Lawyers want WFH, clients want in-person meetings: A modern workplace conundrum
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