Dechert’s hybrid reopening plan highlights back-to-work divide

Signage is seen outside of the law firm Dechert LLP in Washington, D.C.
REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

(Reuters) - Dechert’s leadership unveiled a new “flexible hybrid model” for all of its offices on Thursday, saying lawyers and staff will return to the office in September but may spend up to half of their time working remotely.

The approach stands in contrast to re-opening plans announced by Latham & Watkins and Weil, Gotshal & Manges this week that signaled their lawyers are expected to make a full return to their assigned offices in September.

Dechert will start implementing its hybrid work model on Sept. 13, chair Andrew Levander and CEO Henry Nassau said in an internal memo reviewed by Reuters.

They said they "believe a post-pandemic future work environment will involve our people spending at least half their time working in person together," citing an internal survey that found the firm's workers missed in-person aspects of mentorship and community.

But the survey also found workers valued flexibility, they wrote - so Dechert's giving it to them.

"We trust you to choose where and how to work based on your needs, your family, your team and your clients," Levander and Nassau wrote.

How much time a lawyer spends in the office could vary by week - "some projects may require five days a week in the office or at trial for a period of time, while other weeks may focus on tasks that can be done easily from home," a representative for the firm said.

Law firms nationwide are grappling with how to bring lawyers back to the office as COVID-19 vaccination rates rise and case numbers drop in the United States. Not all firms have announced office return plans yet, but most firms with public plans have stressed flexibility.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom confirmed this week that it's given lawyers and professional staff a "guidepost" to come in at least three days a week starting in September.

Perkins Coie, Reed Smith and Sheppard Mullin have all said they will allow remote work in some form even after their formal return to office plans launch later this year.

Much of Big Law reported profit boosts in 2020, when the pandemic shuttered offices, showing firms that lawyers can be productive from home. But firm leaders have raised concerns about the ability to train associates and maintain culture long-term without regular in-person interactions.

Read More:

Weil and Latham draw harder lines on office return as firms chart reopenings

Skadden to lawyers and staff: Get vaccinated or get tested to come back to work

More law firms set office return dates as Big Law weighs flexible future

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Caroline Spiezio covers legal industry news, with a focus on law firms and in-house counsel. She is based in New York. Reach her at