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Are Law Firms Behind the Times When It Comes to Face Time?

In spite of technological advances like e-mail, remote computer access and low cost Web conferencing, it's back to the twentieth century for associates at large firms -- that is, if you accept Hunton & Williams partner Dionne Carney Rainey's conclusion that face time still matters for law firm associates.  Based on an informal survey of her Texas colleagues, Rainey found that most agreed that "associates need to be physically in the office during regular business hours Monday through Friday."  And Rainey herself adds that "there are many reasons [why face time] is necessary to one's legal career."

Rainey goes on to list some very twentieth century sounding reasons for why associates need to work onsite -- to meet other lawyers, obtain work and form relationships.  She continues:

If an associate is not sitting in her office when a partner comes by to give an assignment, the partner will move on to the next associate. This will not only adversely affect the amount of work the associate receives, but when she becomes eligible to make partner, she will not have made the connections necessary to support her application. By working in the office, the associate has the opportunity to be seen and become respected by the partners — both as a person and as an employee. These personal relationships simply cannot be built remotely and are critical to one's career.

As for weekend time, Rainey says sometimes face time is necessary as well, to show partners that associates are hard workers, who are "accessible days, nights and weekends if necessary." 

I had always believed that modern technology would eventually liberate us from the physical confines of the office and offer the flexibility to work where, if not when we choose.  Many large corporations now have liberal telecommuting policies in place or rely on Web conferencing technology which allows employees to have face-to-face meetings over the Internet without the necessity of a shared physical location.   My guess is that many of these modern companies, which often use large firms to handle legal matters, must be having a good laugh at lawyers' quaint practice of forcing associates to come in on the weekend to impress the boss.  That is, until they see the bill for associates' weekend face time, at which point they may decide to retain a law firm that places more importance on how quickly work is completed, rather than where it is performed.

Or perhaps I'm just ahead of the curve.  So readers -- help me out.  Does Rainey's article on face time accurately depict the face of law firm life today?  Or is her concept of the importance of face time woefully behind the times?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 28, 2008 at 01:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)


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