Can In-House Counsel Work From Home?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 31, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Skip the commute. Work in your pajamas. Pass the day in a coffee shop. Spend more time with your kids. These are just a few of the perks of working from home, a trend that's grown so quickly that 20 to 25 percent of the American workforce now telecommutes "at some frequency," according to Global Workplace Analytics. But telecommuters aren't spread out evenly. Working from home has been slow to catch on in corporate legal departments, where working in-house typically requires being in-office.

But can in-house lawyers work successfully from home? The answer, from a former general counsel, is yes, so long as the right systems are in place.

Making Work From Home Work

Working from home can work out fine when it's done right, according to Sterling Miller, current senior counsel for Hilgers Graben PLLC and former GC for Sabre Corporation and Travelocity. Writing in Thomson Reuters Corporate Counsel Connect, Miller recounts how he went from "very reluctant" to let his in-house attorneys work remotely to becoming a work from home advocate.

"I can report that it absolutely worked out fine for us," he writes, "both in terms of enhanced productivity and in terms of having a materially different 'benefit' that made working in our legal department even more attractive, especially with respect to keeping existing talent and attracting new talent."

Miller has a few requirements for a successful work from home policy, starting with the management. The first is trust. An in-house legal department's leaders need to "trust that your employees are doing what they are supposed to be doing."

Secondly, they need to set in-office days. While full remote work is "doable," according to Miller, regular in-office face time is still needed to allow for "the interactions and benefits from face-to-face time with you, with other members of the department, and with the clients."

Finally, for work from home policies to be successful, a company needs to set clear expectations, provide the proper communication tools, and keep in communication on WFH days, making sure to "treat WFH attorneys just like any other attorney in the office if you need to speak with them."

How to Work Well While Working From Home

Of course, in-house attorneys have to do their part as well if they want to make working from home a success. That includes staying connected at all times, so that you're always within reach even if you're not on site. Attorneys should keep their regular routine as well, Miller says, making sure to "treat WFH just like going into the office." That means putting on your work clothes, so that you can hop on to a video conference at a moment's notice. (Sorry pajama lovers.)

And, while a lot of in-house work can be done solo, attorneys who are working from home need to take extra steps to make sure they're collaborating. "Remember that no in-house lawyer is an island," Miller writes. So even if you're out of office, make sure you don't fall out of touch with the rest of the team.

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