Lawyers are increasingly mobile – technology lets them work from almost anywhere. I suggested in The Future Law Office: Going Virtual that lawyers could sometimes work at home or in satellite offices. Law firms would save on rent and lawyers would save commute time. Two recent articles offer another look at this topic – and reinforce my conclusion that law firms should continue experimenting with working virtually. 

The Business Week Take

From The Easiest Commute Of All (sub-titled “the ranks of remote workers are swelling as companies see the sense in freeing them) in Business Week (Dec 12, 2005, $):

“More and more, the creative class is becoming post-geographic. Location-independent. Office-agnostic. Demographers and futurists call this trend the rise of ‘the distributed workforce.’ Distributed workers are those who have no permanent office at their companies, preferring to work in home offices, cafes, airport lounges, high school stadium bleachers, client conference rooms… At Sun Microsystems Inc., nearly 50% of employees can work from home, cafes, drop-in centers, a company office, or some combination thereof – saving the company $300 million in real estate costs… Today, every knowledge worker has the tools to work from pretty much anywhere: a laptop, a mobile phone, and global, high-speed Internet access that is becoming as ubiquitous as pay phones used to be. Teams are increasingly transnational, warming undersea cables with Net meetings, conference calls, and collaborative projects involving large, far-flung groups. Increasingly, no one is sure of where anyone else is anymore; what’s amazing is how little it appears to matter… Sun says its virtual workers are 15% more productive than their office-tethered brethren”

The Davenport Take in Optimize Magazine

Business Week raves about working virtually, supporting my arguments and then some. A more sober analysis appears in the August issue of Optimze Magazine in Thomas Davenport’s excellent article on Rethinking The Mobile Workforce.  

Davenport writes that “many pioneering companies have retreated from the virtual-office concept” for several reasons: it is hard to monitor and control workers; virtual workers feel career-stymied; lack of access to on-site resources; and cultural issues. My article recognizes such limits and suggests being virtual only a day or two per week. Davenport reports, however, that “[e]ven if mobile work is done only occasionally, there’s reason to be concerned about its implications for social systems within organizations.” Essentially, there is no substitute for personal contact with workmates. That said, he proposes steps to manage occasional virtual work and recognizes the need for experimenting (something I stressed in my article) and measuring results.


If Davenport is right about social networking, then firms must think more carefully about who sits where and how lawyers work across offices and time zones. I can’t figure out how to apply his reasoning to multi-office law firms where professionals regularly form teams across offices and with clients and co-counsel.

So I come out closer to the Business Week view and think that law firm managers should actively consider virtual work. Of course, I may be somewhat biased. As a legal technology consultant, I often work virtually, as I did for two software companies. But when I look at my friends, many of whom do work virtually, and at the ever increasing cost of and time for commuting, it seems inevitable that more lawyers will work virtually, at least on some days.