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Will the Friday long lunch ever return for lawyers?

Following the pandemic-induced boom in hybrid working and deserted CBDs on Fridays, which elements of post-pandemic working will stick in the legal profession? Some insist Fridays in the office are back, while others are adamant Thursday will remain the new Friday.

user iconLauren Croft 01 December 2023 Big Law
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Last year, Lawyers Weekly reported that 59 per cent of lawyers said that Friday was their preferred day to work from home during the week, giving rise to the trend that Thursday was becoming the new Friday in a number of industries, including law.

But while flexibility and WFH have been topics of extensive debate over the course of this year, many are returning to the office more than ever, with WFH seemingly on the way out as the pandemic and state-wide lockdowns become distant memories.

Despite office mandates becoming commonplace – particularly among big banks and corporations – many are still choosing to work from home on a Friday.


In fact, UK-based legal publication Legal Cheek recently reported that UK firm Kingsley Napley had introduced a new policy whereby some of its floors closed completely on a Friday after the firm found that Friday had the lowest office occupancy rate and most staff opted to work from home.

Following this news, Lawyers Weekly created a poll on its LinkedIn page, asking Australian lawyers if this trend exists in the Australian legal profession.

The results of that poll are as follows:

The results show that, of the more than 1,300 legal professionals that responded, almost half (46 per cent) of lawyers are rarely or never in the office on a Friday, with 39 per cent in the office “all the time” on a Friday and 16 per cent in the office “about half the time”.

The LinkedIn poll is, of course, not a scientific study and should not be taken as such. However, it does offer an insight into the mindset of Australia-based lawyers and the post-pandemic professional services office landscape.

Hive Legal has operated on a hybrid working model for close to a decade – and following the results of the poll, principal Adrienne Trumbull told Lawyers Weekly that the days of Friday pub lunches are long gone.

“We know that the main drivers of this are collaboration where better in person, and social connection. While Fridays were traditionally a more social day in the office, they have evolved to the day when working from home is most attractive – you need to get things out by the end of week, you want to attend your child’s school assembly, you have plans to meet friends for drinks. Coming together in the office is great, but it can’t be denied that there are times when the inconvenience outweighs the benefit – and for many, that’s Fridays,” she explained.

Firms need to be more creative in their solutions for social connection rather than squeezing back into a model that’s been outgrown. At Hive, that’s meant purposefully designing the ways we connect; in person, that includes team collaboration days, office events, and rotating social drinks rosters to cater for different days that people work rather than defaulting to Fridays.

“But it also means meaningful remote connection on a day-to-day basis – hybrid staff meetings and daily stand-ups, and agendas designed to give all participants the opportunity to share information and experiences. The days of five-day office week escalating to lunches and drinks in the city on a Friday are long gone.”

Hybrid working ‘here to stay’ – but Fridays in the office could potentially make a return

However, while the majority of lawyers still prefer to work from home on Fridays, 39 per cent said they preferred to be in the office – something Naiman Clarke managing director Elvira Naiman said she was seeing more and more, particularly in-house and in the boutique and SME space.

“With the larger firms, it’s going to be hard to wind back from extreme flexibility during COVID to hybrid work to potentially one or less days from the office, and I think a lot of these larger firms – which have found a ‘productivity groove’ with their hybrid model are unlikely to want to upset the apple cart anytime soon. Invariably, those larger firms [that] have learnt through innovation and technology to get the most out of a remote workforce that they may over the next decade inch closer to a four-day working week – with those four days more likely than not to revolve around time in the office – a model currently being embraced or piloted by a number of countries worldwide,” she explained.

“In Australia, pre-COVID Fridays used to be the ‘busy and social day’; people are tying up loose ends, busily rushing to the finish line with the anticipation of a weekend/rest and fun time around the corner. The social aspect of Friday’s obviously dramatically dropped off during COVID, and with the hybrid working model evolving, [it] took some time to pick up. However, it would appear, based on how busy the city’s café and restaurant scene is on a Friday, that Fridays are back big time, with many people choosing Friday as a day at the office as they can incorporate client lunches and catch-ups with colleagues on that day.”

However, hybrid working is likely to remain important for attraction and retention, particularly for younger lawyers, according to Burgess Paluch director Doron Paluch.

“I think law firms will need to maintain the hybrid working option – at least for one day per week, if not two. An increasing number of lawyers and legal support staff will now not consider career options [that] do not allow a work-from-home option. We are seeing some firms starting to encourage staff back into the office as much as possible, but many candidates still list work/life balance as a main priority. Some staff are now even looking for fully remote roles. Lawyers can get a great deal out of flexible working – especially since it means they lose no time travelling to and from work, and especially if they need to get work done with no interruption.

“But this needs to be balanced with the damage that can be done to a team environment if lawyers are not working cohesively within close physical proximity of each other. It also means that junior lawyers miss out on learning and development time that requires physical proximity to a mentor,” he explained.

“There also seems to have been a bit of a trend for lawyers and legal support staff to work a nine-day fortnight – with Friday as the day off. Hybrid working is here to stay – at least for one day per week, but law firms are likely to tighten things up a little to ensure staff are being productive at home, and to ensure the advantages of having staff work closely together in an office are not lost.”

In 2022, Shine Lawyers and Coutts Lawyers & Conveyancers introduced a nine-day fortnight and four-day week option, respectively – and earlier this year, Coutts managing partner Adriana Care​ told Lawyers Weekly that the policy has improved staff attraction and retention.

Moving forward, firms will have to find a way to embrace hybrid working arrangements while still keeping staff engaged in person at the workplace, according to Cowell Clarke director Joe Murphy, who told Lawyers Weekly that “as the labour market continues to abate in terms of the movement of candidates between firms, hybrid working arrangements are likely to be wound back to some degree” but that for now, offices remain quiet on Fridays and hybrid working is likely to remain “as an ongoing model in the market perpetually”.

“The legal profession, as a whole, is usually the last to catch on with the evolution of parts of working society. Remember the time when many firms or practices refused to give in to concepts such as open plan (plus hot-desking) and hybrid working arrangements? Whilst some haven’t caught up in that regard, others have progressed and been hybrid and/or remote for many years.

“Hybrid working is a mandatory hurdle for most firms. The anecdotal evidence is that most law firm partners and leaders are learning to live with it but are not universally happy with the arrangement in all circumstances. Based on the survey’s results, if you can’t offer hybrid, you are likely to be missing out on opportunities that more flexible firms will capitalise on who are attracting good talent with their flexible arrangements,” he said.

“Regardless of how ‘old school’ a firm is, the larger the firm is these days, the more diverse it will be, and that usually means a divergence in approach from practice group to practice group. This can create divisions within a firm, and comparison of flexibility arrangements between teams that can cause unnecessary discontent. Whatever model is adopted, unity is desirable.”

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