09/21/22 - Is Hybrid Work the Future for Law Firms?
The pandemic has proved that fears of increased presenteeism — something that existed in offices before COVID-19 — have been largely unfounded. Firms moved from a 100% default office setup to an entirely virtual working space almost overnight during the height of the pandemic. Although the sudden shift presented its fair share of challenges, it was doable — even revealing benefits to remote work in some respects. As firms make plans to return to the office in the coming months, many are looking to adopt remote work 20% to 50% of the time. Some smaller firms are going as far as ditching traditional offices for good. A hybrid work model, which allows for both in-office and remote work, is taking root in law firms across the country. Transitioning to a thriving hybrid work environment for the long run, however, will require some changes in the way law offices run and operate. Here are some basics to consider. Technology Infrastructure and Security With so much of the work between colleagues and clients shifting online comes a need for a robust cloud-based infrastructure that can support all staff doing remote work. Hand in hand with that is a need for heightened cybersecurity. There are also IT disruptions to consider, such as slow Wi-Fi and lack of proper videoconferencing equipment. Many law firms are using apps that provide easy and convenient access to files in the cloud and security systems with real-time threat detection and full-audit trail capabilities to address these issues. Secure remote access to case information stored in a well-organized electronic space will not only increase productivity but help the firm meet data privacy regulations as well. Related: “5 Common Tech Challenges in the New Remote Work Normal” plus “Client Portals: A Must-Have for Today’s Law Firms” Communications and Collaborations Communication is often one of the biggest challenges for a law firm. A key concern is that people working from home are at risk of missing out on important information, along with relationship-building opportunities that come from sharing a physical office space with co-workers. Every organization has a different approach in bridging the communication gap. But establishing systems and schedules for firmwide communication seems to work best for workplaces in hybrid operations. Many hybrid offices have regular videoconference schedules and employ a 100% video on policy for team meetings. Also, investing in high-quality webcams and headsets allows better collaboration among employees and boosts morale, regardless of location. Related: “Remote Work Lessons to Take Forward From the Shutdown” plus “The Flat Firm: Why Collaboration Over Hierarchy Makes Sense” Training and Mentoring Mentorship will be more challenging for law firms looking to implement a partly in-office and partly out-of-office model, which could be disadvantageous to trainees. With almost 50% of the staff not physically present, firm leaders are worried about the ability to train interns and associates in a remote setting, where it’s more difficult to identify expertise and observe senior lawyers in action. To ensure that trainees don’t get left behind, law firms will again need to turn to technology — specifically, tools that make knowledge readily accessible despite a partially remote setup. In this respect, knowledge management systems for both legal work product and firm operations will increase in value, providing access to the overall expertise within the organization. Also, recording certain meetings, discussions and negotiations and making them available to associates and interns can be an effective training strategy. Such recordings will allow them to witness how deals are made firsthand. Of course, law firm business professionals and staff require onboarding and training, too. Managers may need help building the requisite skills to deal with the challenges of overseeing hybrid workers. Related: “10 Tips to Help First-Year Associates Cope While Working From Home” Accountability Having all employees in a bricks-and-mortar environment creates a designated start and end to their workday, but this line blurs when the workforce is split into in-office and remote staff. A successful hybrid work environment demands accountability from every player while also fostering a culture that respects employees’ personal time. You can accomplish this by creating clear expectations for communication within and beyond regular work hours and establishing quantifiable productivity metrics for groups working inside and outside the building. Employees must be required to meet specific standards and responsibilities to be successful, regardless of whether they are working in the office or not. Related: “Leading Remote Teams: Tips for Improving Effectiveness” Is Hybrid Work the Future for Law Firms? Switching to a hybrid or fully remote setup has several advantages for law firms and their employees. For one, it eliminates the need for a chunk of office space — one of the biggest expenses for firms. Another advantage comes in wooing talent, which increasingly demands flexible remote work options. Still, firm leaders can’t help being concerned about the long-term impacts of remote work on firm culture, mentorship and training, and turnover. Attorneys are also working longer — and weirder — hours, as lines between home and work have blurred, making them more susceptible to burnout. But as the nature of lawyers’ work continues to evolve and clients come to appreciate the benefits of virtual legal services, remote work is likely to stick around.
08/08/22 - Legal Sector Continues Upward Tick In July, Adds 3,100 Jobs
Employment in the legal industry continued to grow at a steady pace, with 3,100 jobs added in July, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Labor on Friday, as overall employment in the United States rose more than expected last month.
06/29/22 - Will Hybrid Work Remain Within Law Firms?
As featured in Last year, as COVID-19 mandates and concerns eased, firms transitioned from a fully remote environment to a hybrid workflow. But when lawyers and staff returned back to the office, it wasn’t just the dust that collected on their desks that needed to be addressed. Law firm leaders and their tech consultants discovered that pre-pandemic office protocols don’t suffice when staff and lawyers are not in the office five days a week. Instead, the success of long-term hybrid work arrangements hinges on firms adapting their processes, collaborative approach, budgets and culture to new demands and expectations. Hybrid work arrangements aren’t entirely new for law firms. But the scale of remote work post-pandemic will test their previous protocols. “A lot of law firms have typically worked in a hybrid model prior to this,” notes Baker McKenzie chief information officer Daniel Surowiec. “I think it’s [now about] sharpening up some of those skills to be a little more useful and ready-made.” While many law firms successfully pivoted the bulk of their workforce to remote working arrangements in response to the pandemic, Joshua Fireman, president and founder of law firm and corporate legal department consultancy Fireman & Co., says those measures will not thrive in a long-term hybrid environment. “They transitioned inefficient in-office processes to virtual,” he says, adding, “Because law firms have never really put a particular emphasis on using universally accepted tools in an efficient way, those inefficient issues that would be [concealed] with interpersonal actions” will surface. But adopting the necessary technology and processes isn’t law firms’ biggest hurdle in a hybrid model, law firm CIOs and their tech consultants say. Rather, most firms don’t have a blueprint for developing and maintaining a culture in a hybrid workforce. “You can find a way to make [processes] work if you understand the business requirements,” says Ann Gorr, a legal tech consultant for boutique and midsize law firms. “You got it to work in the two years we couldn’t go into the office. We can always make tech work. It’s maintaining culture that is difficult.” That will help determine whether hybrid environments are sustainable over the long term—and it could also have repercussions for the next generation of law firm leaders. Some proponents of law firms adopting a long-term hybrid model note hybrid working gives staff and lawyers requested flexibility and allows firms to downsize their expensive office leases. But those benefits also have their downsides. For instance, as real estate expenses decrease, technology overhead is likely to increase. “I certainly think the budget for updating equipment is going to stay strong if lawyers are working hybrid,” says Burney Consultants founder Brett Burney. “It’s almost like [lawyers and staffers] have gotten used to it. Now they won’t accept an old, outdated software platform. They are going to need the latest and greatest to get their work done.” Instead of law firms rolling out new laptops or other electronics every three years, that frequency will likely increase, Burney adds. “From an IT budgetary standpoint, it will be a major focus,” he says. Law firms, however, appear receptive to spending more on tech. According to a Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor Index report released in February, law firms’ tech expenses increased 5.8% in the fourth quarter of 2021. This tech enthusiasm not only included spending more, but also being more willing to automate inefficient manual processes and drive tech adoption, notes Reed Smith chief information officer Steven Agnoli. Beyond budget drawbacks, Agnoli notes that increased flexibility also creates challenges when attempting to replicate everyday office interactions, such as managing software and hardware. “When you don’t have people coming into an office regularly, some of the deployment processes designed [for] being able to see someone and grab their equipment and update their software … need to be adjusted because those folks may need those services,” he explains. Without direct physical access to IT, a secretary or paralegal, lawyers and staff may take software troubleshooting into their own inexperienced hands, Fireman adds. “The self-serve model became much more important, but that’s where the attorneys—particularly—were left up to their own devices in ways they weren’t properly trained for. That introduces risk,” Fireman says. He adds, “Before the pandemic we used to say this about document management all the time: If your users are ignoring the document management system, they’re introducing significant risks. You add a multiplier to it when people are working remotely, and that represents a real risk factor.” Information Governance’s Moment? Bad habits that some lawyers and staff formed while working remotely have followed them back into the office and created data governance headaches in a hybrid workflow. For instance, lawyers may contravene the firm’s information governance policies by keeping physical copies of documents in their home office, emailing law firm documents to personal accounts or texting with clients, Fireman notes. “Material gaps need to be filled if firms are going to have a permanent hybrid [workforce],” he says. Some firms are proactively addressing the issues created or accelerated by remote working. The hybrid work arrangement, for example, forced Gorr’s boutique and midsize law firm clients to increase their cybersecurity focus and ensure adherence to the firm’s information governance policies. “They started, more seriously, talking about information governance, what you could or couldn’t do from a cybersecurity and IT perspective. It forced people to get their houses in order because when they were all in the same [office], it was easy to govern that,” Gorr says. More law firms are also finally adopting project management tools to keep track of their teams’ cases instead of only sending emails, Burney adds. “I’ve even seen some folks, not too many firms, implementing project or task management tools,” he says. “Many businesses, in the real world outside of the legal world, have been using these tools for decades, but the legal industry has had hesitancy.” Indeed, Microsoft Project, Casemap and other task management software are gaining incremental traction in the legal industry. According to the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Survey Report released in November 2021, 31% of respondents said project management software was available in their firm in 2021, a slight uptick from 2020′s 27%. Reimagining Law Firm Culture Coordinating face time with partners or other firm leaders is an essential part of team building and professional development in firms. But how to best develop associates in a hybrid environment is a new conundrum most firms are still trying to figure out. “From a culture [standpoint] that may be where some of the suffering came in, just with the fact that we still work in a profession that is mostly on a kind of apprentice model,” Burney notes. He adds, “I think people are adjusting to that, but that’s going to be an issue. That’s a lot harder to quantify from a problem standpoint because we may not see the fallout for a while.” Some law firm leaders already see a difference in associate classes, Gorr says. “You’ll hear this lament: ‘First-years aren’t getting the mentorship they need,’ and that’s true,” she says. Gorr adds that developing associates in a hybrid environment and determining how much in-person and remote work is beneficial is a new frontier for most firms. “Every firm seems to have their own culture and [hybrid] is a big new thing. They aren’t sure how to navigate this and no one really has the answer,” she says. While lawyer development may have been an unforeseen casualty of remote working in 2020, associates don’t seem willing to give up that flexibility. According to last year’s Midlevel Associates Survey of nearly 4,000 associates from 77 Am Law 200 firms, 78% preferred a hybrid work schedule. In a competitive job market, outright or subtly mandating a return to the office five days a week may prove futile or spur attrition. Instead, firms must reimagine the “new normal” for lawyer development, says Ballard Spahr chief information officer Robert Holloway. And emerging technology could play a role in creating a great lawyer in a hybrid work environment, he adds. “The videoconferencing technology continues to get better,” he says. “I don’t know if [the] metaverse will be something we use, but as that technology matures and makes being on a video call more real, it minimizes the need for face-to-face contact but continues to foster that communication that is required to function in any environment.” But even with better remote technologies, going into the office should be valued as an opportunity for brainstorming and idea generation that Zoom calls can’t replicate, Fireman says. “Culturally, I think when people are in the office [there] will be more collaboration, and in my dream world, contribute to the serendipitous discovery of new ideas and innovation that are difficult to obtain in a linear conversation in a video where the conversation is laid out,” Fireman says. Such a situation could be ideal, if they can get into the office. Baker & McKenzie’s Surowiec notes coordinating in-office meetings with a hybrid workforce hasn’t been easy. “Lawyers tend to work in cohorts [and] people want to know when a partner is coming in,” Surowiec notes. Coordinating schedules “is not working as seamlessly as it ultimately can, but I think the teams are getting better about communicating when they need to come in and work together.” It’s not a foregone conclusion that hybrid workflows will inhibit firm culture. It’s the early days for this model, and there are a lot of unknowns about where it will all lead. But attorneys’ worries about a hybrid environment shouldn’t come as a surprise in an industry that historically hasn’t had to deal with many widespread, long-term disruptions. “The legal profession reveres precedent. We have been working the same way for many, many years,” Burney notes. “From a cultural component I find many lawyers are not accepting that it will not go back to the way it was.”

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