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What is your hybrid strategy?

At one point in the middle of lockdowns, when everyone one was pretty much working from home, we were never going back to the office. The office was dead. Law firms were highly profitable and amazingly functional with everyone working remotely, writes Stuart Barnett.

user iconStuart Barnett 01 September 2022 Big Law
What is your hybrid strategy?
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Now it seems many law firms have settled on a three-days-per-week-in-the-office policy. What might have worked when faced with a world pandemic, isn’t necessarily the best way forward when the world isn’t in various degrees of lockdown.

What the hybrid model provides is a wider variety of working practices that take into account the preferences of staff who have become accustomed to the flexibility of WFH. It’s something largely unthinkable in big law firms prior to COVID-19. Necessity is an insistent change maker.

This is not a settled debate. And one with strongly held views. Suggesting recently that your career could be impacted by an absence of human face-to-face interaction, my LinkedIn post was met with some staunch resistance. A follow-up poll revealed that 47 per cent of people said that WFH would have a negative impact on their career and 40 per cent positive, 7 per cent no change. (The other 7 per cent agreed it would give them more time to vote in polls).


Personally, I think there are some things best done in person. Online interactions can liberate you from place and travel, but the serendipity of face-to-face interactions that happen in the office is very difficult to replicate. A coffee chat is far more valuable to relationship building than a messenger chat. 

To be fair, this may be a generational thing.

Regardless of where you sit in the debate, and whether you see it as a power play between the lawyer and the firm (read old-fashioned partners who like to see the whites of the junior’s eyes when they give them work), or simply a way to avoid a commute and spend more time with the family, it’s helpful to have a strategy around how you will manage the three days a week in the office.

To make the most of hybrid working (working “hybridly”? A model needs a new language, “hybridarianly” speaking…), it can be useful to develop a strategy that might take into account these factors: personality and preference, position, and career aspirations.

But before we get there, when it comes to thinking about your legal career, all careers in fact, it’s unlikely that your goals, values and aspirations fully align with your firm’s. If they do, fantastic; but more often, it’s about working out what you want, being clear about what the firm wants, both formally and informally, and aligning the two. Ideally, there is a decent overlap; if not, you’re probably at the wrong place.

Back to hybrid. Your WFH preferences might not align with your firm’s, either formally or informally — the firm’s policy is three days in the office, but your supervising partner is in the office every day and likes to have the team around her physically. Policy says you can work from home; you can, but informally, there could be a cost to that for your career. Or at least, you need to manage this carefully. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Some factors your “hybridarian” hybrid strategy needs to take into account:

Personality and preference

Personality obviously has a big impact on how you feel about hybrid working. At the extremes, of course, both extroverts and introverts are disappointed. The former would like the open-plan office all day, every day; the latter, WFH all the way. I oversimplify, but having a sense of what your personality and preference are and where you work best can help you think about what tasks you might do when and where.

This is then where the alignment comes in because you don’t tend to work in complete isolation in a law firm: you work with other personalities and people with different preferences.

And there is also the nature of your work. If you are in merger and acquisition (M&A), then WFH may be more of an option early in a deal but being all in the office more practical as a deadline looms. Lynda Gratton, writing in the Harvard Business Review, observed that, in designing hybrid work properly, it helps to think about it along two axes: time and place.

The way I considered it is that some work needs to be done at the same time as others, but not necessarily at the same place. Other work can be done anywhere at any time, and lunches with the team need the same place and same time.

How you go about negotiating this complexity will also depend on your position within the firm.


What you can do as a partner will be different as a junior lawyer. A partner will largely determine what work will be done, how and by when. This makes sense, but if you are not a partner, this will have a big impact on how you get to work and where.

(Some partners are better than this than others, most are working through how best to make this hybrid thing work.)

So, it might be a question of where you sit in the hierarchy as to how flexible you get to apply the policy in practice, but also how much bargaining power you have — this is often an individual thing, dependent on several variables.

A partner smashing budget and holding a team together is most likely not going to be picked up on the fact that she hasn’t been in the office the required number of days. On the flip side, as a junior lawyer, your absence will be more noticeable.

Important to note, however, that the market is a tad tight for junior lawyers, who are milliseconds away from a sign-on bonus elsewhere, and this is turning the tables a bit on the hierarchy. It is changing the way law firms are working, and this is often a good thing.

Bargaining power should be used wisely. Markets change.

Career aspirations

What you want from your career will also impact what approach you take to your hybrid strategy, and how sensitive you are to aligning with your firm. If you are creeping up on partnership, then things like visibility become increasingly important because, in my observation, it’s not enough to be a good lawyer — you also need to be seen to be a good lawyer. So, this might mean you are in the office more, or very present when you are, or particularly strategic about meeting attendance, etc.

If you’re a special counsel not wanting to follow the partnership track, you may take a different approach, but I would argue this still needs a strategy that takes in the realities of a law firm. As does thinking about your career as a junior — you may like WFH, but out of sight might mean out of mind, and that is not generally helpful to a career.

A final thought

Let’s face it; we are largely learning on the job when it comes to the hybrid work model. The key, as always, when it comes to change is to be willing to adapt, to be open to new modes of working, and to have strategies in place to make the most of it.

But then that’s exactly what every change evangelist will have us do in the face of the VUCA world, which we are constantly reminded we are in. Change should always be subject to improvement. Culture eats the working model for breakfast, if I can mangle a Peter Drucker quote (well, it’s been attributed to him), and every model has pros and cons. The key is capturing the cons.

The last thing we need is “hybriditis”.

Stuart Barnett is a thought partner and coach, with clients including multiple BigLaw firms across APAC.

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