Back in the Mad Men (and Dolly Parton) era of office culture, most professionals were expected to arrive at the office no later than 9 a.m. every day. In the past, many people could not work from home, and it was important that everyone be in the office at the same time each day to start completing assignments. Because employees were less accessible after hours years ago, employees also needed to show up to work at a set time so managers could keep track of their workers.
However, people are accessible pretty much all the time in the present day, and most attorneys can complete almost all of their work in the comfort of their homes. As a result, it rarely makes sense for associates to be in the office at 9 a.m. each day, especially when attorneys can finish work later if they arrive at the office later in the day. Nevertheless, some partners insist on establishing artificial expectations for when associates must be in the office, and those requirements can create unnecessary hardships.
Most of the partners I worked for at various firms did not really care when associates arrived at the office every morning, so long as an associate billed enough hours. Indeed, at most firms at which I worked, attorneys usually arrived at the office around 9:30 a.m., and some associates did not arrive at the office until 11 a.m. most days. Of course, attorneys who came to the office later in the day usually stayed later, and there were few downsides to those associates showing up for work after the traditional 9 a.m. start to the workday.
However, I once worked at a firm that decided to crack down on people arriving late to the office. The managing partner of this firm sent out a stern email to everyone at the office requiring that all attorneys and other employees be in the office at 9 a.m. each day. The partner said that having all employees arrive at the office around 9 a.m. would help us provide good service to our clients. It was also mentioned once that it would be easier for attorneys to collaborate on assignments if everyone was around the office at the same time each morning.
However, requiring everyone to be at the office at 9 a.m. every day was completely unnecessary and created burdens for associates and other employees. Clients knew they could email us whenever they wanted and receive a response around the clock. I think I only had a handful of conversations with clients on the landline at my office while working at that firm, and being accessible to clients is a poor excuse to require associates to be at the office at 9 a.m. In addition, since many firms require associates to be accessible around the clock through email, it is extremely unfair to also require these attorneys to be in the office at 9 a.m. each day.
Furthermore, requiring attorneys to be in the office at 9 a.m. is regressive and can create hardships that may make it more difficult for associates to fulfill other responsibilities in their lives. For instance, many parents have difficulty getting to the office that early due to childcare needs, and being more flexible with when associates must be in the office can make it easier for parents to contend with childcare issues. In addition, being flexible about when associates need to start their day can make it easier for employees to attend doctor’s appointments, deal with car troubles, or fulfill any number of other responsibilities people have in their lives. Such flexibility can boost morale and show associates that their employer cares about them and is not establishing artificial expectations that can get in the way of employees fulfilling important obligations in their lives.
In addition, requiring associates to be in the office at 9 a.m. each day so attorneys can collaborate and communicate face to face is also a poor reason to create a hassle in the lives of associates. Most associates today collaborate through text, email, gchat, and a variety of other tools. Indeed, at many of the firms at which I worked, associates had robust group text message chains where all of the attorneys spitballed ideas and supported each other as we completed assignments. Since attorneys use various means to collaborate, it is unfair to use collaboration or face-to-face interactions to justify a 9 a.m. start to the workday.
All told, requiring associates to be in the office at 9 a.m. each day is so twentieth century! Most partners who have such expectations need to get with the times and afford associates greater flexibility. Of course, sometimes there are powerful incentives to get to the office early. One time, I worked at a firm where an important partner was in the office at 8 a.m. each day, and I wanted to be in the office early in order to receive assignments from him. If there is an important enough reason to be in the office early, associates will use their discretion and arrive at the office at an appropriate time.
However, a 9 a.m. start to the workday is usually an artificial hassle that can get in the way of associates completing necessary life responsibilities. Since associates are accessible pretty much all the time through email and other means, partners should be more flexible about when they expect associates to arrive at the office each morning.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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