Welcome back to the Big Law Business column. I’m Roy Strom, and today we look at how Husch Blackwell’s virtual office has grown to 200 lawyers by making life easier for working moms and others. Sign up to receive this column in your Inbox on Thursday mornings.
Husch Blackwell turned in a stand-out financial performance in 2022, growing revenue by nearly 17% and extending a streak dating to 2018 of improving important metrics like revenue per lawyer, headcount, and net income.
Much of the growth can be attributed to the firm’s virtual office, which is unique among the country’s 100 largest firms by revenue.
Launched in 2020, it now includes more lawyers than any of the firm’s 21 physical offices. It’s dubbed “The Link,” and next week it will hit 200 lawyers working from homes in 28 states and Washington, D.C.
While other firms pressure lawyers to return to office—or risk portions of their bonus—Husch Blackwell has gone all-in on the remote work model. The firm says it’s proving to be a differentiator.
It’s helped recruit lawyers from firms that were less accommodating, allowed the firm to retain lawyers whose lives benefited from staying at home with young families, and it’s bringing the firm more work from clients in cities that previously would have required an expensive office roll-out.
“We’ve brought scores of talented and high-power people to our law firm who wouldn’t be at Husch Blackwell if we didn’t have The Link to offer them,” said J.Y. Miller, The Link’s managing partner.
I’ve written about the firm’s remote office before, when it opened in 2020 with fewer than 40 lawyers, and again in 2021 when it was nearing 75 attorneys. The office has grown despite the wave of suspicion Big Law leaders like to heap on virtual work.
And it’s done so because of people like Lauren Burke, who joined The Link in September 2021 from a regional firm’s office in downtown Philadelphia. The mass tort defense attorney wasn’t looking to leave the firm where she’d worked for 12 years, but she didn’t want to give up the benefits of working from home during the pandemic.
Her two children, now four and six, were at daycare three blocks from her home. Classrooms were frequently closing, and her downtown Philadelphia office was a long train ride away.
“Now when school calls I’ll say, ‘Ok, I’ll be there in a minute,’” Burke said. “We’ve survived and my work hasn’t suffered at all, and a lot of that is because of The Link.”
Burke was one of the first Philadelphia members of the virtual office, which now has 11 local attorneys and is handling work for clients that used to go to local counsel. The Link has lawyers from 17 of the firm’s 19 practice areas, with only its employee benefits and executive compensation and Washington-focused government contracts practices not represented.
Remote work has also helped Husch Blackwell retain lawyers as their lives change.
Senior associate Tara Ficken started planning a move to Charlotte, North Carolina from St. Louis when her daughter was born in early 2020. Being closer to family was important, so Ficken made sure her ducks were in a row before approaching her superiors about a possible move to a city where Husch Blackwell didn’t have an office.
Then the firm launched The Link.
“I felt pretty confident I could convince the people that needed to be convinced, but when The Link opened it just took a lot of the stress out of it: I’m just going to join the Link like a lot of other people are doing and it will be fine,” said Ficken, who advises clients on trademarks and intellectual property issues.
She passed the North Carolina bar and moved her family to Charlotte in mid-2022.
Then Covid hit her family.
Ficken, the mother of a two-year-old, said she turned to the firm for help. Two days later, she was working reduced hours, putting in 85% of a full schedule.
She said the firm’s willingness to accommodate her shows it understands “what makes people successful isn’t the same for everyone.”
“There is a lot of life happening in your 30’s,” she said.
Amanda Garcia-Williams, Husch Blackwell’s chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, is another employee who says she wouldn’t be at the firm if not for The Link. Garcia-Williams, who joined the firm in 2021, lives and works out of Lansing, Michigan.
“I wouldn’t have taken the interview and certainly wouldn’t have taken the job if it hadn’t been for the ability to work remotely and keep my family here in Michigan,” she said.
The firm’s ability to accommodate working mothers and those navigating other life circumstances via remote work is the definition of inclusion, she said. It helps employees feel like they belong and are valued.
“We’ve heard from many people that it creates a space for them to be most comfortable,” she said. “And for the firm to lean into that and not hold it against them really creates a place where they feel like they’re valued and are full members of the team.”
That’s a big reason why Big Law’s largest virtual office has grown so fast.
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That’s it for this week! Thanks for reading and please send me your thoughts, critiques, and tips.
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