A majority of U.K. lawyers said they would not take a pay cut in exchange for full time remote working, according to a survey by Law.com International, despite nearly 50% of the same poll believing that a pay cut for remote staff is a valid policy.
In a poll of over 50 lawyers, when asked if they would opt for a pay cut alongside full time home working if their firm offered it, 72% of respondents said no. 15% said they would take the pay cut while 13% were undecided.
47% of respondents to the same poll said they think law firm staff and fee earners should be paid less if they work remotely full time.
One partner at a medium to large law firm flagged what they perceive as hypocrisies between law firms’ solid financials and pay cuts. They said: “Law firms cannot on one side boast about their income/profit and on the other side cut pay only because of remote work… if such remote work remains without effect on the quality and amount of work done.”
“A pay cut is frustrating and may lead to good employees leaving,” they added.
Location also plays a part in influencing whether or not partners would be happy to take the deal, the survey found. Another partner at a mid-sized firm said due to living close to the office, they would rather go into the base instead of taking the pay cut.
However, another partner said a 20%-30% hit on salary would still be “a fantastic deal to not have to commute”.
Meanwhile, non-partners are of mixed views, particularly as the hot hiring market for junior talent continues to play in their favour. An associate, who said they were undecided on whether the would d take the pay cut, said they would be likely to leave their firm if such a policy was introduced.
Discrimination and retention issues
Such a policy is likely to trigger many other issues, with 25% of respondents saying the greatest impact will be exits from the firm. A Manchester-based partner said that if their firm were to offer reduced salaries for remote workers, the risk would be to push more talent to London.
While COVID-19 remote working was first hailed as a “game changer” for women in law, many believe that a pay cut for remote workers would be a step backwards for gender parity. 19% of respondents to the survey said another major impact could be a widening gender pay gap owing to the likelihood of women favouring the policy more than men.
In the poll, a female partner at a mid-sized to large law firm joked: “I’d expect my male colleagues to be delighted that I am working from home — it gives them a chance to crawl out from under my shadow!”
They continued that the policy is discriminatory against women who “carry the lion’s share of the childcare duties and are for the first time in history being able to satisfactorily combine work with motherhood”.
“The genie can’t be put back in the bottle”, the partner added. “Law firms need to stop living in the past”.
The ongoing debate stems from Stephenson Harwood’s decision to cut pay by 20% for its people choosing to work remotely full time — a move which garnered national attention and criticism online.
Another respondent said they are much more productive financially when working from home, and wouldn’t opt for the pay cut, stating:
“The firm is doing markedly better financially from me working from home and has no need for my presenteeism — there is no justification for me taking a pay cut.”
The discussion around salary for remote workers is the latest challenge for firms as they continue to tackle issues raised by the shift to remote working, including presenteeism and retention challenges.
While initial obstacles included whether or not to introduce a formal work from home policy, more recent concerns include the potential for home working to erode workplace culture.