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Lawyers surveyed identified training early-career associates as one of the major challenges caused by the pandemic.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

The pandemic has left Canadian lawyers wanting to spend more time working remotely, and with more flexible schedules, but most of them are content to continue toiling the long hours that traditionally come with the job, according to a recent survey.

As vaccination rates rise across the country, a return to the office has become more viable for white-collar workers, but the pandemic has shifted their preferences. According to a recent global survey of 2,000 lawyers conducted by Sharplegal of Thomson Reuters Corp., including 473 in Canada, lawyers in this country would prefer to work two days a week at home on average. Before the pandemic, those surveyed preferred to spend 0.6 days a week working remotely.

The survey also found that 63 per cent of Canadian lawyers had a desire for more flexible work hours.

“After over a year of working from home, lawyers have had the ability to see a different balance in their life and so that is really shaping their working preferences,” said Jen Dezso, director of client relations at Thomson Reuters.

While major Canadian banks and other large employers are embracing a hybrid work model, which allows employees to spend a part of their week working remotely, some managers have pushed back against the work-from-home trend. In June, the chief executive of commercial landlord Allied Properties REIT said bank CEOs need to “find a backbone” and bring workers back to the office.

In July, a top in-house lawyer at Morgan Stanley in New York wrote a memo telling law firms that the company worked with to return to the office, or risk diminishing the quality of its client service. The memo also raised concerns about how remote work has affected the careers of junior lawyers who need mentorship to develop their practice.

Lawyers surveyed by Sharplegal also identified training early-career associates as one of the major challenges caused by the pandemic.

Firms and lawyers are recognizing that is an issue “and realizing that they need to be far more intentional about their talent development than they have maybe been in the past,” Ms. Dezso said. “The good news is what we’re seeing in the research is that firms really are making that effort now to have a very formal plan on how they’re going to be integrating the junior lawyers.”

One thing the pandemic has not changed is the long hours that often come with practising law. A rush of initial public offerings and acquisitions has intensified the workloads of corporate lawyers since the pandemic began. Canadian lawyers surveyed reported working an average of 9.5 hours every weekday and 2.6 hours per weekend day. Those figures are almost identical to the working hours they reported pre-COVID.

However, more than half of Canadian lawyers said they preferred to set boundaries with clients, which include not being on call past 11 p.m., or on weekends. Ms. Dezso said lawyers understand that there will be exceptions that break those boundaries, “but they don’t want to make the exception the rule.”

Forty-seven per cent of Canadian lawyers surveyed, and 61 per cent of U.S. lawyers, did not want to set those sorts of boundaries. Essentially they want to be available to clients 24/7.

“We do see those lawyers in the U.S. kind of shying away from putting those boundaries on the relationships,” she said.

With fewer boundaries may come more compensation. In July, The Globe and Mail found that U.S. law firms on Wall Street are aggressively recruiting Canadian talent, who often double their salaries by going south of the border.

Woodbridge Co. Ltd., the Thomson family holding company and controlling shareholder of Thomson Reuters, also owns The Globe and Mail.

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