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Young Attorneys’ Takeaways on Remote and In-Person Work Post-COVID-19

Erica Moran and Elie C. Biel


  • Attorneys reported that increased flexibility was a huge benefit of remote work.
  • While many attorneys experienced positive changes from the remote work environment, many timekeepers also reported a variety of challenges.
  • Opinions were split as to whether work-life balance was helped or hindered by remote work during the pandemic.
  • Across the board, attorneys want the ability to work at home (or elsewhere) on demand, without being penalized.
Young Attorneys’ Takeaways on Remote and In-Person Work Post-COVID-19
RossHelen via Getty Images

The year 2022 is almost upon us, and as is the case with every new year, change is afoot. While that change may come in many forms, one topic at the forefront of our minds is the prospect of returning to a prepandemic, work-in-the-office lifestyle: Many legal employers have indicated that they expect employees to return in some form to in-person, in-office work in early 2022. Expectations surrounding that move may vary, but it is generally understood that the new “normal” will be anything but normal, particularly given the emergence of the Omicron variant (and whatever variants follow). In short, many of us (and our employers) don’t know exactly what work will look like in 2022; and, in fact, many of us may be conflicted about what we want it to look like.

With this in mind, we wondered what lessons young lawyers have gathered from working remotely over the past 20 months, and what they may mean for legal employers and attorneys moving forward. We reached out to young attorneys across the country (including those in private practice, those in government, and those working as in-house lawyers) to discuss the challenges they faced, the benefits they gleaned, and what remote work measures they want to see carried forward. Here is what we found, organized generally around the questions we asked.

The Best Aspects of Working Remotely

Across the board, attorneys reported that increased flexibility was a huge benefit of remote work. Multiple attorneys noted that it was nice to be able to choose to weave in personal tasks throughout the workday, such as doing laundry, taking a shower after an early-morning meeting, or exercising in the middle of the day (Peloton workouts between meetings were all the rage). Attorneys also pointed to the flexibility of being able to work from anywhere as a big upside to remote work. One attorney told us that the ability to travel and work in different places broke up the monotony of the pandemic and helped her mental health. Another enjoyed the unquestioned ability to work from the beach or a cabin or a park—anywhere but in a buttoned-up, climate-controlled office setting.

Another universally reported benefit was the time saved by not having to go into the office. Indeed, in some instances, the reported time savings from forgoing the commute was significant—upwards of two hours a day (hello, Los Angeles!)—and helped attorneys better meet the demands of work and home. As one attorney put it, the lack of a commute provided the ability to pivot quickly from work to home life. Several attorneys also reported time savings (and less stress) due to not having to dress up to “office standards.” One attorney noted that she was able to be more efficient and save time because her workday wasn’t interrupted by socializing with her coworkers. In general, most attorneys felt they were able to use all of this saved time to enjoy a better work-life balance.

One in-house attorney who often works with international colleagues noted that she saw a benefit from the normalization of joining videoconferences and taking calls at home. Because she is located on the West Coast, she often had very early Zoom meetings (e.g., 5:00 a.m.) and appreciated that she could attend the meetings from home rather than in the office.

Several attorneys with young children identified the extra time with their families as the best aspect of working remotely. For example, one senior associate noted that he was able to actually experience his child’s first steps and other developmental milestones because he was working at home. Another in-house attorney stated that she believes the remote-work model can help ensure that women remain in the workforce because it provides more flexibility in terms of time and project management. That same attorney noted that while working remotely, an individual can juggle caring for a sick child at home while working, even if it means working well into the evening. And an attorney working in a government job noted that his family was able to keep one child in half-day day care rather than sending the child to day care full-time.

We wondered if in-house counsel noticed any difference in their communications with outside counsel during remote work. The attorneys we spoke with did not notice a change in outside counsel’s responsiveness or work product (either positive or negative). One attorney noted that being in-house, she was already working with outside counsel “remotely,” so nothing really changed and the transition in the pandemic was smooth.

The Challenges of Working Remotely

While many attorneys experienced positive changes from the remote work environment, many timekeepers also reported a variety of challenges.

One recurrent theme: the difficulty of setting boundaries between office and home life. For example, one attorney noted that having the discipline to stick to a daily work schedule was a challenge at home but that having that schedule was necessary to avoid working late into the evening. Another attorney noted that she struggled to stop working each day—feeling the need to constantly be “on” at nights and on weekends so that people saw that she was working.

Productivity was also a challenge. One attorney noted that she thought she was less productive at home, stating that it was hard to “get in the zone and stay in the zone.” Attorneys pointed out that working at home came with distractions, including barking dogs, screaming kids, inadequate home offices, and the omnipresent need to do household tasks.

Many attorneys noted that they missed interacting with their colleagues in person and felt isolated due to remote working. Many attorneys in private practice noted the value of being able to walk down the hall and bounce an idea off of a colleague in person; they stated that replacing these conversations with scheduled calls was difficult and not the same. One in-house counsel noted that she felt “out of the loop” working remotely; she noticed that she was missing out on in-person conversations that were taking place between her CEO and general counsel, who had returned to the office—conversations in which she otherwise would have been included if she had been there. Attorneys also missed the social aspect of being in the office.

Several attorneys voiced opinions about the increased use of videoconferences during remote work. One in-house attorney thought that there were benefits and drawbacks to increased videoconferencing. On the positive side, videoconferencing encouraged one person speaking at a time and neutralized the sidebars that often occur during in-person meetings. However, she also pointed out that videoconferencing lacked interpersonal connection and gave participants “permission” to be more passive than they might be in person. This sentiment was echoed by another attorney, who noted that aspects of human response are lost in Zoom calls and remote depositions. Another in-house attorney described Zoom as a “double-edged sword.” However, she also noted that her organization had instituted informal measures to avoid Zoom burnout by encouraging several “No Zoom” days a week—on those days, employees were not expected to turn on their cameras for meetings.

Remote Work and Work-Life Balance

Opinions were split as to whether work-life balance was helped or hindered by remote work during the pandemic. Some attorneys felt that, overall, the remote work environment was a good thing for work-life balance due to the flexibility and time savings identified above. These attorneys pointed to the following specific benefits, among others: an increased ability to be both a high-performing employee and a present and involved parent; an enriched, flexible lifestyle with more time to spend with family; and better self-care and mental health.

A minority of attorneys noted that they found no real change or impact in their work-life balance while working at home.

The remainder of attorneys felt that working at home completely blurred the lines between work and home life. These attorneys noted that they had difficulty disconnecting, such that work bled into home life, leading to higher stress and burnout. Some of these same attorneys reportedly chose to return to the office months ago in an effort to reestablish a boundary between home and work.

Concerns about Returning to the Office

Some attorneys with whom we spoke did not have any concerns with returning to the office and were looking forward to it. These attorneys felt comfortable with the measures put in place by their organizations to address any health and safety risks. Other attorneys expressed indifference about returning to in-person work because their organizations have already indicated that they will not be required to return full-time.

However, there were several attorneys who identified COVID-19 exposure as their primary concern with returning to the office. These attorneys worried about transmitting COVID-19 to spouses with work-from-home flexibility and to children too young to be vaccinated (under age five).

Other attorneys were concerned about how a return to the office would impact caregivers, especially women, single parents, and others who do not have as much flexibility at home. Additionally, some attorneys voiced concern about returning to “normal” prepandemic activities and behaviors, such as (perhaps unnecessary) in-person meetings, commuting, being places on time, and looking presentable.

Finally, one attorney was concerned about potential inequities that might ensue from a hybrid return-to-work model. He expressed concern that those choosing to work in the office would be provided with better opportunities than those electing to work predominantly remotely due to the informal social interactions and comradery among and between coworkers in an in-person office setting. He also pointed out that in his experience, partners (particularly senior partners) overwhelmingly favor the in-office environment, such that work allocations could lean toward in-office attorneys.

Going Forward

In terms of elements that attorneys would like to see carried forward from the pandemic-driven remote-work environment, we heard a common refrain: flexibility. Across the board, attorneys want the ability to work at home (or elsewhere) on demand, without being penalized. Attorneys noted that the pandemic has proven that they have the ability to work from home and that, as a result, employers should not arbitrarily require people to work in-person going forward. Several attorneys also noted that they would like to see more casual dress codes kept in place when returning to work.

Finally, a few attorneys noted that they believed working remotely gave them, employers, clients, and colleagues a greater recognition that home and family life were important and should be valued. These attorneys hoped that this new understanding would infuse their working relationships going forward.


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has wrought many changes in the practice of law over these last 20 months. While individual circumstances varied, younger attorneys reported, in general, that some changes have been positive (e.g., increased flexibility, increased personal time, and the now-proven ability to work remotely), while others have proven problematic (e.g., blurring of work-life boundaries, social isolation, increased burnout, and home-based distractions). We recognize that attorneys are notoriously opinionated and that there is no one-size-fits-all model for employers to follow as we transition into a post-COVID-19 world; however, if our survey has shown anything, it’s that legal employers would be wise to avoid implementing heavy-handed policy changes that force people to return fully to a prepandemic lifestyle or that remove timekeepers’ ability to employ flexible strategies for performing their duties. Young attorneys now expect and demand flexibility to determine their preferred work environment. And with the legal talent war continuing to rage throughout various markets, lifestyle considerations may very well hold the key to attracting and retaining talent in 2022 and beyond.