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The Singapore Law Gazette

Working from Home – Luxury, Necessity or a Right?

“What’s their work-from-home policy like?”

That’s the question we get 80% of the time when speaking with lawyers looking out for new roles.

Working from home, or “WFH”, has become everyday parlance. It is also a significant factor that influences people’s decisions on whether to stay with their current firms.

3-2, 4-1 = what do the numbers mean?

The Data Divide

A Microsoft Work Trends report in 2022 paints a dichotomy between what employers and employees feel about WFH.

  • 85% of employers believe that people will be more productive working in the office.
  • 87% of employees believe that they will be more productive if given a hybrid work arrangement.
  • 73% of employees say “they need a better reason to go in than just company expectations”.

Legal Professionals and the New “New” Normal

For legal professionals, traditionally bound by rigid office structures, the pandemic brought about a transformative experience. Lawyers discovered the joys of flexible working, the pleasures of family dinners on weekdays, freedom from daily commutes, and the ability to harmonize work and personal life. This alternate universe, where “work-life-harmony” was possible, was embraced not only by junior to mid-level lawyers but also by many senior lawyers who found solace in working away from the CBD hustle.

Defining Flexibility in the Legal Sphere

Law firms in Singapore have different approaches towards WFH. Larger firms, like the Big 4, typically lean toward 3-2 or 4-1 models, emphasising trainees’ physical presence for visibility and assimilation. Smaller firms, such as LVM Law Chambers, Eng & Co, and Helmsman, adopt varying policies, underlining the need for adaptability.

Joseph Lee, the Joint MD of LVM Law Chambers, lets his staff WFH one day per week or on an ad hoc basis. Notably, he shared that new joiners usually come in every day initially, “Newcomers are encouraged to be full time in the office for the first few months to promote their visibility and accelerate their assimilation.”

This emphasis on in-office presence for newcomers resonates with Ian Teo’s approach at Helmsman, where a similar WFH policy of one day a week is observed.

Rachel Eng, the Managing Partner of Eng & Co, introduces a slightly different dynamic, opting for a policy that lets employees WFH two days each week. “If there are meetings on the WFH day, our lawyers will then come into the office. The new joiners and trainees work on the same basis.”

Should the narrative be simply a binary choice between 3-2 and 4-1?

Perhaps the better questions to ask are:

  • What best serves the team’s interests?
  • How can we foster better collaboration and build relationships?
  • Meanwhile, how can we best mentor and set them up for success?

International Law Firms’ Approach to WFH

Most international law firm partners I spoke to acknowledge the importance of flexibility in retaining legal talent. Firms such as Ashurst, Linklaters, and Norton Rose Fulbright advocate a balanced approach, with lawyers spending at least 50-60% of their time in the office. Innovative workspace strategies, dynamic office environments, and a focus on inclusivity underscore their commitment to fostering a culture of trust and engagement.

Ashurst’s Singapore Managing Partner Jean Woo said the firm asks for everyone to be in the office at least 60% of the time. This policy extends to all new joiners and trainees as well.

Linklaters, both in Singapore and globally, has a similar policy of hybrid working. Sophie Mathur, their Head of Corporate in Asia, said they encourage staff to spend half their work hours in the office – which translates to about three days in a week. When asked how this policy applies to newcomers, she said, “There is not officially a difference but we strongly encourage new joiners and trainees to be in the office to help with onboarding. We typically assign them a buddy to take them out for lunch or coffee in the first few weeks so that organically gets people in the office.”

Norton Rose Fulbright, as the pioneering international law firm that appointed a Singaporean managing partner back in 2017, has adopted a unique strategy to encourage lawyers back into the office.

Yu-En Ong, their Head of Singapore, outlined a comprehensive workspace strategy deployed across their global offices in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, including Singapore. He shared, “This approach advocates for lawyers spending at least 50% of their time in the office, recognising the need for flexibility based on client and business requirements.”

When asked to elaborate, Mr Ong, who is a managing partner, said they try to emphasise the benefits of working collaboratively in a dynamic and modern office space. “In 2019, our newly-renovated Singapore office introduced a mix of open-plan desk space, adjustable workstations, and private booths, providing flexibility and agility to the way we work and in service to our clients. We believe that’s a more effective way of engaging our people, building trust and promoting diversity than mandating fixed attendance with penalties for those who don’t comply.”

In-House Legal Teams Navigating Change

Most in-house legal teams lean towards a hybrid approach, with some exceptions embracing a five-day office week. Lyn Lee, Head of Group Legal at OCBC, articulates this strategy, “We adopt a hybrid model of work, providing flexible working arrangements to our employees.”

In conversations with companies across sectors, a spectrum of flexible working models emerged. Some outliers mandated five days in the office, but the majority of legal teams exhibited a more flexible stance. This flexibility, recognised by HR and General Counsels, proves instrumental in talent attraction and retention.

PayPal, for instance, has no mandated office days. Instead, they designate Wednesday and Thursday as “Anchor Days,” encouraging employees to come in for group events. Additionally, they hold monthly “Collaboration Day” characterised by heightened engagement activities for their team members.

Mark Tan, General Counsel of GLP, sheds light on their policy, advocating four days in the office and one day remote. He said, “This is designed to encourage interaction between individuals, and our experience is that while Zoom can be highly effective, being able to communicate in person encourages increased informal and ad hoc communication that is difficult to replicate virtually.”

Emphasising Trust and Inclusion

John Gao, Regional Legal Director of Reckitt, underscores how flexible working arrangements are most effective in environments with high levels of trust. Trust, he says, is a two-way street. “We recognise that as an MNC, our teams operate across countries and time zones. To seek flexibility for employees in global calls, we need to reciprocate with trust and flexibility,” he said.

Reckitt’s policy embodies this ethos, setting a general guideline of three days a week in the office. John emphasises that their approach results over presenteeism. The office space, he elaborates, is designed for the “4 C’s – to Create, Collaborate, Coach, Connect.” This encapsulates a broader vision that values meaningful engagement and productivity over rigid physical presence.


Whether the policy is 4-1, 3-2, 5-0, 50% or 60%, the crucial factor lies in defining expectations from the outset.

As LinkedIn’s Head of Asia Frank Koo* aptly puts it,” Leaders should trust their teams to do their best work when and where it works best for them.”

How a leader defines workplace flexibility will invariably send a certain message to the market.

So, what kind of message do you want to send to the market?


* Link to Rodrigo Canelas’s Something Bigger Talk Show; One secret to lead the future of work

Aslant Legal

Shulin is a lawyer-turned-seasoned recruiter with over a decade of experience in executive search. She runs a specialist search firm, Aslant Legal, which partners with lawyers seeking to advance their careers. As the host of a legal podcast, After the Bar, she’s purpose driven to advocate for positive change in the legal world. Crafted over a cup of Arabica coffee during her designated one WFH day per week, this article reflects Shulin’s firsthand insights. At Aslant Legal, she fosters a flexible work environment where her team embraces remote work for one to three days a week. Leading the team has been a learning curve for her, prompting the realisation that allocating a minimum of one WFH day per week is essential to relieve team members of any undue pressure to be present in the office daily just because the leader is there.