CLIO and ABA Recent Surveys: A Tale of Two Studies

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CLIO and ABA Recent Surveys: A Tale of Two Studies

I recent returned from the annual Clio conference, at which it released its 2022 Legal Trends Study. This Survey of Clio lawyer  customers and others comes out every year.

In addition, Aba Practice Forward Group also recently realized its own Survey of some 2000 members.

The two Surveys are interesting both because they offer a look at the post-pandemic (we hope) world and because the findings are in many ways similar. Since the studies presumably were not of all the same people, the similarities give a lot of credibility to both results.

The Clio Legal Trends Report

First, the Clio study. One big takeaway: 49% of those surveyed want to work from home. Of the 1 in 5 lawyers who changed jobs in the last five months, many did so for the better work life balance and flexibility that remote work provides. More evidence the world of work has changed: before 2020, 40% of those surveyed worked exclusively from the office. Now it’s 30%. 86% of lawyers surveyed say they frequently work outside the traditional 9-5 hours, 69% work weekends, and 74% work after regular hours. (It’s unclear whether these statistics show lawyers are working harder or at different times or both).

In a nutshell, it seems clear that to keep and attract talent, law firms will have to be flexible, at least as long there is more work to do than bodies to do it. 19% of lawyers left for new jobs in the past year, and 9% more say they are planning to leave. Most of these lawyers aren’t necessarily leaving because they want to work less; they just want to work on their terms. 76% want to be able to choose their own hours.

Says Jack Newton, Clio CEO, “The past two years have fundamentally changed how lawyers define the roles of work in their lives. Technology is enabling much needed flexibility got today’s lawyers.”

Other remarkable Clio findings: Lawyers’ business has grown. Caseloads are up 10%, hours billed are up 28%, and, importantly, collected revenue is up a staggering 31%. This collection increase probably reflects better collection and realization thru technology. It also may perhaps reflect that billing and collecting have been given more attention in the age uncertainty. Billable hours are up 35%. The bad news: hourly rates aren’t necessarily keeping track with inflation since 2019.

The Clio Study also confirmed the cloud is here to stay. 60% of Lawyers using the cloud for client interactions had better ones. Lawyers using the cloud for work were happier. This is probably because they could work where and when they wanted without being tethered to an office. And the one thing clients of Clio lawyers could care least about is whether the lawyer has a physical office.

The ABA Study

The ABA Practice Forward Group surveyed 2000 ABA members. 74% of those surveyed were in private practice. As with Clio, many of those surveyed were with smaller firms (less than 100 lawyers). 65% worked in urban settings. The Survey did not distinguish between partners and associates.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (90%) believe working remotely did not affect the quality of their work or productivity

Most importantly, 44% of the respondents say they would leave jobs to find a place with greater ability to work remotely and better work life balance. This desire is entirely consistent with the Clio findings.

Like the Clio study, the ABA study also shows workplace culture and work life balance also matter to those trying to decide whether to stay at a job. Lawyers want to work remotely, and even more importantly, they think they can do just as good work and be as productive working from home.

The Clio study did not directly address the quality of remote work. But the ABA Survey shows an overwhelming majority of respondents (90%) believe working remotely did not affect the quality of their work or productivity. Most respondents say that working remotely provides increased work life balance, which the Clio survey clearly shows lawyers want.

The good news: 87% say that their workplace allows them to work remotely. 30% say they work remotely close to 100% of the time. 23% say they are required to come into the office 1-3 days per week.

Another finding similar to that of Clio: some 59% worked more than 40 hours per week, and 22% over 50 hours per week. Lawyers have little choice but to work after hours and on weekends to hit these kinds of numbers.

Yet another important but sad set of statistics. The amount of demeaning and insulting comments that women and minorities are subject to while in the office:

  • 23% of women experienced demeaning comments
  • 18% of lawyers of color experienced demeaning and insulting comments
  • 22& of disabled lawyers experienced demeaning and insulting comments
  • 18% LGBTQ+ experienced demeaning and insulting comments

And we wonder why people aren’t itching to get back to that “firm culture” of the office.

Many lawyers, particularly women, fear career consequences if they work from home regardless of firm policies.

Another disturbing revelation. Many lawyers, particularly women, fear career consequences if they work from home regardless of firm policies. Specifically, they fear they will be labeled as not committed to the firm. Hmm…the vaunted firm culture strikes again.

And in response to those who say that associates can’t be adequately trained without being in the office, and therefore let’s make them get their butts in the seats. 25% of those survey clearly want in person training. They just want designated days for it so they don’t come to the office to do the same thing they would have done at home.

Conclusion

The two studies together show an overwhelming preference for remote work and little drop in productivity as a result. So it’s tempting to say the legal world has fundamentally changed.

Maybe so. But we can’t discount the reluctance of law firms to change and the fact that those in charge in law firms are, by and large, those who want to be in the office.

And another troubling thought. If there is a significant downturn in demand, law firms may start to demand a full time return to office even if it means worker dissatisfaction. According to a recent Bloomberg article by Meghan Tribe, lawyers are already required to return to the office at higher rates than other businesses.

That same article reports that legal work is slowing. If so, concerns of being labeled as “noncommitted’ and eventual fears of even layoffs may make younger lawyers return to the office. Being labeled as non-committed was precisely what many of the ABA respondents were worried about.

During the pandemic, lawyers realized that they really like the flexibility and work life balance that remote work provides. And they think they can work pretty well remotely.

So what does all this mean? The rate of work dissatisfaction among lawyers pre-pandemic was pretty high. During the pandemic, lawyers realized that they really like the flexibility and work life balance that remote work provides. And they think they can work pretty well remotely. If firms demand a rigid and arbitrary return to the office, they may risk losing talent, as I have discussed before.

But if the demand for legal services flattens out, firm management could start demanding a full return to the office and take a step backward. If that happens, the level of dissatisfaction will go through the roof, and we may see a mass exodus away from law firms and even the law. That’s not good for the profession or our rule of law.

We live in interesting times.