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UK law firms ahead of the field in return to offices

There are almost no UK corporate law departments working on a remote-only basis, compared with nearly a quarter in the US, newly published in-depth research has shown.

The 2023 State of Corporate Legal Department report by Thomson Reuters also showed that nearly a third of UK corporate law departments were planning to reduce legal spend amid economic uncertainty, yet in the US less than a quarter of firms were planning to do likewise.

Thomson Reuters’ researchers found that less than 1% of corporate law departments in the UK were still working remotely full-time. By comparison 22% of US corporate law departments were still working on an entirely remote basis. Within Canadian corporates 16% were working fully remotely, followed by Asia Pacific (10%) and mainland Europe (4%)

Hillary McNally, general manager of Corporates Legal at Thomson Reuters, said: “In-house legal teams in the UK have moved much more quickly than other regions in bringing staff back to the office either within a hybrid model or full time. By contrast the US lags behind, with a fifth of US corporate law departments still operating on a fully remote basis.”

“Firms in the UK are expecting teams to come into the office, often two or three days per week, so that they can benefit from in-person collaboration and build up the social aspect of the workplace.”

The study also revealed that 31% of UK corporate law departments were set to cut their legal spend in the coming months, higher than almost any other region.

In mainland Europe 27% of firms planned to cut spend, followed by 21% in the US and just 8% in Asia. Only Canada was higher that the UK, with 33% of departments planning to cut spend in the second half of 2023.

Globally, corporate law departments were shifting work to alternative legal service providers and smaller law firms to reduce costs, the report found.

Thomson Reuters’ report concluded that UK corporate law departments regarded economic instability as a bigger risk than international in-house legal teams. Nearly a quarter (22%) view currency/economic instability as a key risk in the next three to five years, compared to 15% in Canada, 13% in mainland Europe, 11% in the U.S. and just 3% in Asia Pacific.

Hillary McNally said: “Economic uncertainty in the UK, including lingering concerns about the long-term impact of Brexit means corporate law departments are more anxious than their global counterparts about the risks posed by a weaker economy.”

“Globally, corporate legal departments are more concerned about the changing regulatory landscape and the growing threat of disputes spanning multiple jurisdictions.”

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