The Mandatory Return to the Office is almost here… what are you going to do about it?

Radical transparency Nov 11, 2021

Firms are going to do what they’re going to do. How you respond is up to you.

Can you see it approaching--there, on the horizon? It’s still pretty far away, but it’s approaching rapidly: the Mandatory Return to the Office. And if you listen closely, you can probably also hear the accompanying mournful groans of attorneys whose lives have fundamentally changed as a result of the pandemic and don’t want to be forced back to the routines of old.

Photo by Pars Sahin / Unsplash

If you’re one of those attorneys, I certainly don’t blame you. There are plenty of entirely justified reasons why you, and many others, don’t want to be forced back into the office grind. I’ve addressed some of them in my previous post about return to office policies, but for the sake of being thorough, let’s count them. Or at least, as many as I can think of.

  1. The pandemic isn’t over, and it won’t be for a while. Sure, adults and kids 5 and up can get vaccinated (which is beyond amazing), but that still leaves kids under 5, anyone with a compromised immune system, and anyone else who for one reason or another isn’t adequately protected by the vaccine alone. All good reasons why an attorney may not feel comfortable returning to a crowded office.
  2. Commuting is a huge waste of time, expensive, and it sucks.
  3. Meetings are often a huge waste of time, especially when they’re in person and just.drag.on.
  4. People waste each other’s time in an office in a myriad of ways.
  5. Business and business casual clothes are uncomfortable, expensive, and unless you have a client meeting or court appearance, also entirely unnecessary to be a good attorney.
  6. Eating lunch out every day can get expensive and unhealthy.
  7. Long days in an office mean very little face time with family and loved ones.
  8. Many people relocated during the pandemic and don’t want to go back.
  9. Workplaces are laden with microaggressions (and some pretty macro ones too) that can make offices difficult/intolerable for women, people of color, non-heteronormative individuals, those with physicial limitations… need I go on?
If you have a little bit of time left, how about start writing your own bucket list
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters / Unsplash

I’m sure there are more reasons, but I think I’ve made my point.

Unfortunately, many firms don’t seem to care enough about those reasons. Which is frustrating given that there are also a number of reasons for firms to continue allowing--or even encouraging--remote work. Lower overhead costs, higher associate satisfaction, and increased competitiveness for talent being just a few.

Yeah, I know some Biglaw firms have announced that they’ll allow 1-2 remote days per week going forward, yay, such progress, much celebration. I suppose broadly applicable hybrid work arrangements ARE a pretty significant step forward from how firms were pre-pandemic. Still, hybrid arrangements in which the majority of each week must be spent in the office really don’t address a LOT of the issues on the above list… so attorneys who share those concerns are still SOL.

It is what it is… so what ARE you going to do about it?

We can lament the situation until we’re blue in the face, but that Return to Office date is still coming and our complaints and righteous indignation aren’t going to stop it. Sooner or later, a decision must be made. Will you stay at your current firm, even if it means returning to a city you gladly left behind or a microaggressive work environment, just to maintain your professional status quo? Or will you take control of your career (and your life) and make a change?

"Once you hand them the strings, they become the narrator of your life."
        - Unknown
Photo by Agni B / Unsplash

I strongly recommend that you make that decision SOONER, not later, for several reasons.

First, stalling ain’t gonna change a damn thing.

If you up and moved to Denver during the pandemic and your NY firm calls you back to the office, you WILL have to choose between your job and Denver.

Second, the pandemic messed with our sense of time and decision making.

I really do believe that, because it makes total sense; for a year and a half, there weren’t a lot of decisions we COULD make. Life was locked down and it was completely outside our control. Accepting the status quo and letting go of the passage of time turned into a kind of a survival mechanism.

It’s hard to shake off that kind of stagnation--I compare it to when you sit down on the couch to watch “one show” and next thing you know you have become one with that couch and someone will have to physically pull you up--but it’s also necessary. Time has resumed. And you are running out of it to make a decision.

Eventually everything hits the bottom, and all you have to do is wait until someone comes along, and turns it back again. ⌛️
Photo by Aron Visuals / Unsplash

Third, waiting until the last minute could mean slim pickings.

if you’re one of the many attorneys who really should be looking for a new job because your life circumstances demand it, you need to start looking ASAP to maximize your options. Waiting until the last minute to start a search means you’re stuck with whatever is available at the last minute. Making career decisions with your back against the wall does not lead to good career decisions.

Fourth, starting your job search doesn’t mean you can’t stick around to get your bonus, so I don’t want to hear about it.

I do not want to hear one more person tell me they are waiting to start a job search because they’re staying at their current firm to get the bonus. People, it can easily take months to find and start a new job. It’s November. You can start your search now and get your bonus. Don’t use that money as an excuse.

STOP STALLING. Make your decision. Don’t let life make it for you.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM / Unsplash


Julia DiPrete

Biglaw survivor. Former Assistant Dean of the Duke Law Career Center. Currently exploring the magical world of legal recruiting. Yeah, I've pretty much seen it all. And I love to write.

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