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It is cliché at this point to note how the explosion of remote work has changed the workplace since the onset of Covid-19 in March 2020. The legal industry is no different, as firms like Pond Lehocky Giordano made the transition to remote work while still zealously working on behalf of their clients. As workplace culture experts and business leaders continue to debate the pros and cons of the growth of remote work, the Young Lawyer must continue to navigate new challenges presented by a lack of in-office time while embracing the growth opportunities provided by a reconfigured workplace.

Mentorship Via Email

A Young Lawyer’s initial success often depends upon their ability to find a mentor to provide hands-on training and feedback. While some firms may assign formal mentors, the open-door nature of many offices allowed for direct contact between young associates and seasoned senior associates or partners; a quick answer to a difficult question might only be an office away.

Remote work has fundamentally changed that office environment. Now, a quick question might require a formal email with background information leading to the question at hand. While such a process may be time consuming, it forces the Young Lawyer to dig into the question and consider whether the solution can be found without sending the email. Figuring out a question that can be answered with a little research versus a question that requires input from an experienced attorney yields self-reliance necessary to grow as an attorney.

The geographic boundaries of mentorship have also been forever altered in this new remote experience. At Pond Lehocky Giordano, attorneys are able to virtually cover workers’ compensation and Social Security Disability hearings without regard to location, allowing Young Lawyers to work with seasoned partners that are usually a Turnpike drive away. This presents new opportunities for the Young Lawyer to learn from attorneys across an entire firm, not just those in their specific office. Moreover, if a new attorney is actively seeking out a specific type of file to work on, remote work widens the available field of cases to work on.

Remote Work Expands the Network for Young Lawyers

Young litigators not only learn from colleagues in their own firm, but they also learn from interactions and experiences with opposing counsel and judges as they begin their careers. A young attorney could park herself in a courtroom all day and observe various motion arguments to not only learn what succeeds, but sometimes learn how not to lawyer. Moreover, observing what arguments work on specific judges would also expand the tools in a Young Lawyer’s arsenal. And, because the daily courtroom environment builds collegiality within the bar, a Young Lawyer’s mere presence in a courtroom could lead to life-long business and personal relationships.

Learning from colleagues and judges can still happen in a Zoom environment, just with some tweaking. I have observed other attorneys learn tech skills on the fly, figuring out how to screenshare an exhibit while working in their home’s nursery. There is built-in downtime in a video hearing when waiting for all parties to join, and those moments present an opportunity to get to know a judge or opposing counsel beyond formal case-related interactions. For the Young Lawyer, these moments are critical in establishing a rapport with fellow members of the bar. Virtual hearings have also eliminated the geographic boundaries between attorneys and the judiciary. At Pond Lehocky Giordano, it is not unusual for an attorney based in Pittsburgh to handle a day of hearings with judges that were previously separated by a five-hour drive. This allows Young Lawyers even more opportunities to learn from an expanded group of colleagues.

Maintaining Firm Culture in A Remote World

While we may not miss the daily commute into the office, the bonds of office culture are simply not the same over video or email. For the Young Lawyer, this can unfortunately manifest itself in a loss of relationships with other lawyers and staff in the office. Even cliché Monday morning water cooler talk adds to a certain level of camaraderie with staff that is difficult to replicate via email or Slack.

To solve this problem, the Young Lawyer must embrace their opportunities to gather with colleagues and staff and look to the possibilities of the hybrid office environment. Happy hours, office parties, and staff outings are more meaningful today after having been sidelined for nearly two years. Pond Lehocky Giordano led the change on reconsidering what a return to the office would look like, easing into expanded in-person office days while also revisiting the amenities needed to improve the experience. As their firms discuss the best ways to organize in-person days moving forward, Young Lawyers should not sit on the sidelines when input is solicited. This is their chance to remake and improve the office for all staff moving forward. The Young Lawyer can be on the forefront of that change.

The New Normal    

The past 30 months have made clear the risks of speculating on what the future (and timeline) of work life will look like. For the Young Lawyer, it is clear that traditional modes of mentorship, networking, and internal relationship building will continue to have at least some remote components. While such a disruption may make it difficult to follow established successful paths, remote work provides the Young Lawyer boundless opportunities while also making those in-person office days or staff events significantly more meaningful.

Daniel E. Pierson is a workers’ compensation associate at Pond Lehocky Giordano LLP. He can be reached at dpierson@pondlehocky.com.

Reprinted with permission from the September 22, 2022 edition of The Legal Intelligencer © 2022 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-257-3382 or reprints@alm.com.

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