Welcome to the Big Law Business Chronicle on the changing legal market written by me, Roy Strom. Today we take a look at the progress made by a leading law firm in the first year of their virtual office experience. Register now to receive this column in your inbox on Thursday morning.
JY Miller read what Morgan Stanley’s Eric Grossman said about the dangers the legal profession faces if large law firms continue to let lawyers work remotely.
Miller respectfully disagrees. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
He’s leading what is arguably Big Law’s biggest virtual office experience to date: Husch Blackwell’s “The Link”. And it proves at least for now that lawyers have a great appetite for working from home.
I wrote about the launch of The Link a year ago this week, when the fledgling operation had 38 lawyers and around 50 staff signed up for full-time remote work. Twelve months later, legal staff has nearly doubled to 73. Husch Blackwell plans to add more than 70 staff to its virtual office this fall, bringing its total staff to around 200.
Based in St. Louis, Miller defends her clients against toxic tort claims. The Link lawyers represent clients on a wide variety of subjects. He said most customers have had a positive reaction to the company’s remote working strategy.
“We haven’t really seen a negative reaction; it was just the opposite, ”Miller said in an interview. “A lot of the feedback we get from our clients is about how they feel the firm has made this commitment to our employees. “
The Link is already Husch Blackwell’s fourth-largest law firm, behind cities where its physical offices have a long history: St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago.
Miller and his virtual office partner Jennifer Dlugosz said The Link has been a godsend for recruiting lawyers. The firm added remote lawyers in at least 14 cities where it does not have a physical office during the year. Some of these lawyers previously worked in Husch Blackwell’s offices and moved during the pandemic.
Fewer employees are moving for work, according to a survey by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. The percentage of job seekers who moved to work fell to 4.2% in the first quarter of 2021, according to a survey of 3,000 participants. This was down from 9.6% in 2018, 5.7% in 2019 and 5% in 2020.
One example of The Link’s expansion of the company’s recruiting options happened with an associate in the Harrisburg, Pa., Area, Dlugosz said. Husch Blackwell does not have an office there, but the partner saw in The Link an option to work for an AmLaw 100 company while staying near the state capital, where her husband is a doctor.
“I don’t think we would recruit otherwise from Harrisburg, PA and now we have someone on our team who is excellent,” Dlugosz said.
Morgan Stanley’s Grossman was reportedly concerned about the growth and mentoring opportunities for young lawyers working remotely, which others say are often key to becoming a partner. Miller admitted the concern is “legitimate,” but said the firm’s virtual lawyers have the same career opportunities as lawyers in traditional offices. The firm says four of the 23 lawyers it promoted to partnership earlier this year are based in its virtual office.
The firm is trying to recreate the kind of random incidents in the office that lawyers for The Link might otherwise miss, Miller said. He matches members of The Link with lawyers in other cities for 30-minute “coffee chats” based on similar practice areas or common clients. And in August, The Link emerges from its virtual bubble to reunite in St. Louis for its first quarterly gathering in person.
“We recognize that working in The Link isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay,” Miller said. “But for the people he helps and the client teams he supports, I think it’s crucial that we continue to invest in The Link and the teams that use it to continue supporting our clients. I’m really proud that our company has made this commitment to The Link and our people.
Worth your time
On contingency fees: Chris Opfer portrays Bill Carmody, the New York City litigator with a great risk appetite who recently helped former WeWork CEO Adam Neumann secure a nine-figure settlement.
Upon return to the office: Brian Baxter and Ruiqi Chen write that Morgan Stanley’s Return to Office edict puts law firms in a difficult position with lawyers who prefer to work from home. Cooley, meanwhile, will not demand that lawyers return to the office in 2021.
On lateral recruitment: The number of bankruptcy cases may be low, but Winston & Strawn is investing in the practice of restructuring. He hired former head of McDermott Will & Emery’s restructuring practice Tim Walsh, Meghan Tribe reports.
It’s all for this week ! Thanks for reading and please send me your thoughts, critiques and advice.