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‘Geography is not a limitation’: Husch takes working from home to a new level

J.Y. Miller (left) and Bret Chapman

J.Y. Miller (left) and Bret Chapman

Husch Blackwell recently opened its 21st office location. Just don’t bother asking to see the conference room.

In July, Husch launched The Link, a fully remote office that encompasses about 40 attorneys and a dozen staff members in eight locations across the country.

J.Y. Miller, who will serve as The Link’s office managing partner, gave up his physical office in the firm’s St. Louis location where he’s worked since 2002. He said he realized that, during the five months that Husch had been operating remotely, he hadn’t needed a single piece of paper there.

“After seeing how I could be more effective at home, more efficient, and how I could have breakfast with my family, go outside and play catch with my 12-year-old son in between Zoom client calls, or just have greater flexibility in how I structure my day, I didn’t miss having the idea of having an office at all,” he said in an interview.

Remote operations have become a bigger part of the legal industry during the pandemic as firms try out new approaches to serving clients. For instance, TuckerAllen, an estate planning and elder law firm based in St. Louis, announced in the summer that it had expanded its virtual consultation services to Columbia, Jefferson City, Cape Girardeau and Rolla, enabllng attorneys to meet clients in those cities via video conferencing or phone.

Still, Husch’s move is unusual for a firm of its size. Husch Blackwell is on the American Lawyer’s list of the largest 100 firms in the country, and it is Missouri’s third-largest law firm by revenue, according to Missouri Lawyers Media’s MOney 2020 publication.

While remote attorneys will miss out on chance encounters in the hallway and small talk in the break room, they still can make visits to the office in their cities, set up lunches and have other planned interactions with their colleagues, including quarterly get-togethers at Husch’s physical offices throughout the country, Miller said.

The opening of the office already is proving to be a recruiting tool, he added. The virtual office is preparing to bring on an attorney in a city where Husch has no office, he said. In one fell swoop, Husch will gain what is effectively a satellite office in a new location while the attorney gets the benefits of a national legal platform without having to move.

“Geography is not a limitation,” Miller said. “You can quickly onboard and integrate new people literally in every city across the country.”

The concept predated the COVID-19 crisis. Miller said The Link was the brainchild of Bret Chapman, the firm’s chief administrative officer, who had seen the benefits of remote work in other industries.

“We are committing to an infrastructure that best supports legal teams working from anywhere,” Chapman said in a news release.

Moving 1,500 employees to remote work in three days last March, however, proved it could not only work but also had some benefits, Miller said.

“People for the first time saw the potential in this,” he said. “It was COVID that I think was the real push to get so many people to the point where they quickly volunteered to be part of this initiative.”

As Miller spoke, his dog could be heard barking in the background. Perhaps even a year ago, that might have struck a client as unprofessional. But after months of stay-at-home orders and Zoom calls from kitchens and living rooms, there could be a permanent shift in perceptions.

“We’ve accelerated people’s views of different ways to work in the legal industry in a major way,” Miller said. Ultimately, he said, clients care most about the service they receive.

“If you can provide greater results in less time, I guarantee the clients are going to be happy,” he said. “And if you are more thoughtful than ever about how you’re connecting with clients, they’re going to feel that connection and be happier than ever.”