As Biglaw firms beckon their attorneys to return to the office in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, we got to wondering what may be happening in the in-house counsel world. It used to be that remote work requests from general counsel prospects were widely granted, with remote work even becoming the norm in post-pandemic years. But now, just two years later, things have drastically changed. How so?
Per Corporate Counsel, “the era of the remote GC is officially over.”
The change reflects the belief among many CEOs and other corporate leaders that in-office time fosters greater collaboration, deeper relationships and greater creativity, as well as unstructured moments of learning that are crucial to the development of employees early in their careers.
Many executives held those views all along but were reluctant to push them in the sizzling job market of 2021 and early 2022, fearing that prized employees might jump ship. The market has since softened a bit, while the end of the COVID-19 pandemic has further emboldened company leaders to impose more stringent return-to-office policies.
As noted by Chicago-based in-house recruiter Mike Evers, “hard hybrid” is the model that many law departments are now using, which can be likened to Biglaw’s “core” days, with employees required to come to the office on specific days. “This could mean having to relocate. It removes completely the option of someone living in Denver or Florida and working in Chicago,” he told Corporate Counsel. “It has now moved to where, in most cases, you do need to work where the job is.”
In fact, some companies that hired remote GCs have asked them to relocate in order to accommodate their new in-office requirements. That sounds like a tall order, but at least some executives are being sensitive about these hard asks:
At the same time, [Edina Beasley, managing director of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s in-house counsel recruiting team,] said, “many leaders are wary of alienating GCs who, having uprooted their lives and schedules during the pandemic, are resisting returning to the office full time,” she said.
“Clearly, there is a need for a delicate balance there, and leaders are recognizing it,” she said.
On the flip side of the coin, John Gilmore, managing partner of the in-house recruiting firm BarkerGilmore, said that bigger companies are looking for their legal chief to be “on the ground with the rest of the executive team” if only because they’re wary that a remote GC may up and run if another closer opportunity presents itself.
One reason, [Gilmore] said, is that many clients are skeptical a remote GC would be fully committed to the company for the long term. “Will they do it up until the point where they have something that’s in their backyard and then make a quick turn?” he asked.
“They’re looking for a long-term commitment to the company and the only way it’s sustainable is for that person to physically move,” he said.
Fully remote working conditions in the in-house world now seem to be firmly in the rearview mirror, especially for general counsel. Alas, the grass is no longer greener in-house, at least when it comes to a remote or truly hybrid work experience.
Remote GC Revolution Fizzles Out as Employers Flock to ‘Hard Hybrid’ [Corporate Counsel]
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter and Threads or connect with her on LinkedIn.